“I think it’s nice to meet new people when they come in and welcome them to the community. It gives them a good feeling.”
So says Louise Crain, a resident at Country Club Village in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She’s also an ambassador on the community’s welcoming committee, one of a handful of residents who take it upon themselves to make newcomers feel at home when they arrive.
We’ve all been there. Feeling alone and more than a little apprehensive on our first day at a new job, a new college, or in a new neighborhood. As we get older, those anxious and insecure feelings can escalate upon entering a retirement community for the first time, or maybe after having a bad experience at another community.
That’s why Sunshine Retirement Living not only provides designated move-in coordinators and official welcome packets at all of its communities, it has also initiated Welcome Committees with outgoing, congenial residents like Louise to roll out the red carpet for every new resident.
“I have seen people come up to me and say, ‘SHE was the first person I met when I came here,’” says Louise. “They remember.”
Move-in coordinators are staff members who are responsible for making sure new residents have a smooth transition. They in turn recruit ambassadors from among the veteran residents and let them know when someone is moving in.
“Coming into any of our communities is a huge change for new residents,” says Lauren Dubay, Sunshine Retirement Living’s Wellness Director. “And one of the scariest places is often the community dining room. It's like being the new kid in the school cafeteria.
“We don’t have assigned seating, but we try to curb the new-kid-on-the-block anxiety by designating a space we call the 'Sunshine Table' at meal time. It is typically decorated a little more festively than the other tables and has a sign which notes that the table is for new residents, their families, friends and our ambassadors.
“Once they’ve had a chance to get acquainted, the new residents eventually join other residents at their tables or the Sunshine Table becomes full of new neighbor-friends and we start a new Sunshine Table elsewhere in the dining room.”
At Summerfield Estates in Tigard, Oregon, Life Enrichment Director, Anthony Nosen has gone a step further by featuring a “Sunshine Chair” on it at each table. A chair with a ribbon on it is reserved for new residents so everyone at the table will make them feel extra welcome.
The ambassador program was created by our Resident Advocate, Dick Glaunert, aka “Mr. Sunshine.” At most communities, the ambassadors prepare welcome packets for new residents chock full of hints and tips to help them get acquainted with their new surroundings. The packets include maps of the property, information about onsite amenities, bus schedules, and many other helpful hints.
The ambassadors will also escort the new residents to their first several meals and activities. After getting to know a little about them, an ambassador will pair the new resident with other residents who have similar interests and hopefully, they will become friends. Not surprisingly, those interests are often shared by the ambassadors themselves.
“My ambassador became my best friend and is still my best friend,” says Country Club Village resident Grace White. “I’m just returning the friendship that I received when I arrived here.”
In most communities, ambassadors meet twice a month to talk about the new residents and how they are fitting in. Once the ambassadors agree that a new resident is well-acclimated, they will “let them go” and then help to ease the transition for the next new resident into their new home.
Of course, the love and friendship found Sunshine Retirement communities doesn’t end when the move-in coordinators and ambassadors have done their jobs. Managers like Teresita Mabolo at Villa Serena Retirement in Santa Clara, California are always going out of their way to make sure residents feel welcome.
“Tess” and her husband, Robert have lived on-site at Villa Serena for over 10 years, which means they are basically on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You’ll often find Tess making food for staff parties, visiting residents in the hospital, watering their plants while they’re away, even serenading to them at lunch time. In fact, her selfless dedication has earned her the nickname, “Mother Teresita.”
That’s the thing about Sunshine Retirement Living. The next person you’re introduced to could easily become your best friend. Or a saint.
*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living