Full Calendars, Active Lives: Life Enrichment at Era Living
It’s an old myth that aging and retirement automatically means an inactive life, and the residents at Era Living continue to prove that wrong in a myriad of ways. It’s true that everyone has their own comfort level of how social, busy, and involved they want to be. But whether they’re touring the town or leading their book group at home, the residents are curious, lively, and interested in all the activities around them. And thanks to Era Living’s Life Enrichment teams, there are plenty to choose from.
Creating connections through calendars
“I think Life Enrichment is at the heart of each community,” says Susan Strand, Life Enrichment director at University House Issaquah. “We create the fun and tone for the building; if the residents are excited, there’s a buzz.”
“Our mission is in-house activities and outings that are good for the mind, body, and spirit,” says Julia Goldie, Life Enrichment director for Aljoya Thornton Place.
And the life enrichment calendar activities for any given year really do span mind, body, and spirit. Residents can attend lectures, take music and art classes, play ‘brain games’ to stay mentally nimble and fit, and discuss books, current events, and movies together. They can choose from various cultural and spiritual holiday celebrations like Passover and Lunar New Year, outdoor walks and hikes, and volunteer events supporting Harborview Medical Center and local nonprofits. Of course, there are always sports events and watch parties, holiday-themed events, and outings for current and seasonal happenings in the Seattle area.
That still doesn’t mention the standard health and fitness classes, birthday celebrations, shopping trips, and social hours scheduled monthly. And the list just goes on.
As exciting as these social calendars can be, one important goal of all Life Enrichment activities are the connections that they can help build. And the LE teams make sure that these experiences are available for anyone, regardless of health, lifestyle, or situation.
“I find it important to vary the types of destinations, length of trips, and price point for all outings and activities so that people with different abilities, interests, and income can access them,” says Julia.
Julia shares personal stories that show how this approach also helps residents who might otherwise feel shy or anxious about attending social activities. There’s the former dancer who, no longer able to twirl as she loved to, still found immense joy in being able to watch others dance together at her community parties. The grieving widow who found herself grateful for the social connections at card games to help take her mind off her loss. And the knitter who started her own community knitting group that she called Knit or Knot, welcoming anyone who wants to knit or just chat for company.
How the calendars get made
Just as all Era Living communities vary in culture, backgrounds, and energy, each has their own Life Enrichment team to plan and customize group activities for them. The very first thing the team does when planning is gather the residents’ suggestions, feedback, and ideas on what they’d like to do more of or try out. These are gathered in activity meetings with the residents, as well as in conversations and from comment cards.
“I love the planning meeting I have with the residents every month,” says Susan. “I bring ideas and so do they — we have fun brainstorming.“
The ideas truly run the gamut. Past events include tea tastings and a class on Shakespeare; outings to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience, a theater showing of Casablanca, and the opera performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute; men-only events with beer and mini golf; and even a fun visit with llamas—where the residents learned about them and took selfies with them!
Once the activities and events are decided, the Life Enrichment team starts the process of making them a reality. For in-house events, the lecturers, performers, and workshop leaders are researched, scheduled, and booked. Depending on the event, the LE team works with Culinary Services on creating a special menu or treat for the occasion. Just recently, the CS team served a corned beef slider for the St. Patrick’s Day happy hour that featured a bagpipe player and green beer.
Outings require more logistics and planning, with many factors. Transportation, accessibility, staffing, reservations, costs, and meals, as well as attracting enough residents to make the trip cost-efficient, are all part of the checklist.
“The residents drive the events,” Susan adds. “When the activities are full, and we have a resident on every seat on the bus, that’s when we’re successful!”
Life Enrichment: From move-in to movie nights
Many new residents just need to take time to settle in, and Life Enrichment supports them right from the start. Some LE teams will pair new residents with a volunteer “ambassador,” a resident who knows the lay of the land. The LE team also leads events that are specifically planned to help new friendships form, like dinners, social hours, and speed “friending.”
A member of the LE team will also meet with new residents to get to know them and their interests, introduce them to the activity calendar, and explain how to sign up. The LE team will then start a “portfolio” for that resident’s interests and add suggestions for activities they might enjoy.
Many residents can also rely on the Life Enrichment teams for personal transportation at no charge; the Memory Fitness programs and individual calendar reminder assistance; volunteer opportunities; and sometimes even help with dog walking if residents are out of town or unable to do it themselves. (Programs and services can vary by community.)
Seeing happiness come from hard work
Julia says she hears regularly from residents about the difference the LE team makes in their lives. “Not a week goes by that we don’t get great feedback from residents about individuals having fun, learning something new, being entertained, or just feeling grateful for having so many opportunities to be a part of the community events.”
“One of the best emails I received was during Covid. It was a scary and challenging time, and we had to provide programming in a whole new way,” Susan says. “A resident sent a quote that summed up [what she felt] we were providing: ‘We have been lifted for a time to where boredom and fear seem irrelevant.“
If you want to find out more about how active seniors can be at Era Living, get in touch with one of our Community Relations team members to request a Life Enrichment calendar. It’s a great example of how retirement can look like a full, thriving life.