Residents and staff are recruits in community-building

A sense of community often evolves in a communal living setting when people come together. In retirement communities, members of their community — whether residents or staff — are encouraged to share their talents and abilities with others.

Peer teaching

Roseann Burke, the resident chairperson of the activities committee at Friendship Village of Schaumburg, has recruited, encouraged, and mentored her fellow residents, resulting in them teaching classes to their peers. She calls them “willing workers.”

Jill Steco, director of lifestyles for Friendship Village, says approximately one dozen residents share their favorite art, craft, or other hobby with their friends. “Roseann found residents who have talents such as crocheting, painting, sewing, and making jewelry, and they’re teaching their friends and neighbors.”

The initiative was launched in part because of COVID-19. The lifestyle team was committed to keeping residents engaged and active. While visitors, including instructors, were prohibited from campus, it made great sense to feature in-person programming led by people living at Friendship Village. Now that the community has reopened, the residents have remained the favorite teachers.

Many of the classes are artistic in nature, however, resident experts have also stepped forward to assist with gardening and technology. “We videotaped one of our tech-savvy residents, showing how to do Zoom calls with grandkids. It is on our in-house TV library and available for residents to watch whenever they’d like on-demand,” says Steco.

The resident-run classes are drawing unprecedented numbers of attendees. Some of the courses, such as crocheting, have been introduced before but never took off to this extent. The lifestyles team believes it’s more comfortable for residents to learn new things from their friends than professionals.

Steco says the way this is set up is encouraging residents to try participating in new activities in a very non-threatening way. “It makes it more relaxing for the participants to sit and learn among their peers, and not needing to be self-conscious in the presence of an ‘expert,’” she says.

Furthermore, the resident-run programming is beneficial to those acting as instructors. “This is giving our residents confidence and ownership of something and provides them with opportunities to use their skill sets and share them with someone else,” says Steco.

While it’s not the ultimate objective, the financial benefit of the programming is a nice outcome. Steco says that in the past, the community has spent a lot of money bringing expert teachers in for classes. “Having the residents teach the programs is saving money for other purposes, which is very exciting.”

“We’re so proud to have these residents who are happy to share their gifts with their fellow neighbors,” says Steco.

As seen in Chicago Tribune PrimeTime June 2021

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