“Have I told you how much I love this job?” is a question Karen Kay has asked her husband several times since taking on her new position as director of the Friendship Senior Options Foundation. The fundraising arm of Friendship Senior Options, managing company of senior living communities Friendship Village in Schaumburg and GreenFields of Geneva, the Foundation enriches the lives of older adults by providing programs and resources outside regular budgetary means.
“I am smitten with the non-profit world,” said Kay, who has tackled such issues as poverty and cancer research in 26 years of developing programs and raising funds for a multitude of philanthropic organizations in the Chicagoland area. But working with the senior population at Friendship Village, where her office is located, is a first for her. “I jumped on this opportunity as soon as it became available; it was just meant to be,” she said. “Every colleague of mine is so warm and welcoming, and every resident gives me this wonderful grin; it really warms my day.”
Indeed, relationships are key for Kay, both professionally and personally. “Building authentic, genuine relationships with people is the cornerstone of my life and career,” said Kay, whose first experience with a non-profit was one she established for children and adults with developmental disabilities when she was in high school. “I have thrived on making a difference every day, and it’s never been short of inspiring.”
Kay’s enthusiasm for the three pillars of the Foundation - benevolence, education and the arts, and capital improvements - is as compelling as her passion for her work. “What we do is incredibly important,” she said, stressing benevolence. “For those seniors who’ve outlived their resources, we are that quiet, seamless support for the rest of their lives.”
As for education and the arts and capital improvements, Kay sees concrete examples of the Foundation’s influence every day. “The number of activities available to residents is amazing. Everyone is always doing something!” she said. She is also excited about the new security vehicle making its way around campus and other purchases underwritten by the Foundation.
Despite its generous provisions, Kay feels that the Foundation could do even more. “I am seeing untapped potential in lifelong learning and greater opportunities for seniors to be, live, and thrive. From a fundraising standpoint, it is good to give back and be present and visible as a not-for-profit entity. Our goal is to extend that sense of social conscience to the external community as well.”
Lifelong learning is not limited to the seniors she and the Foundation serve, according to Kay. “I too am always learning new and better ways to do things. I’m open to new ideas because things change,” said the mother of three teenaged daughters. Staying ahead of the curve professionally does not, however, keep her from being present in each day. “I always tell my children to stay in the moment; enjoy dinner, conversation, the scenery. She also prioritizes communal responsibility. “It’s my job to make sure my kids are good citizens.” With their mother as an example, that is all but guaranteed.