(The following blog is written by Sagora President Bryan McCaleb)
A month ago, I received an invitation to attend a homecoming event. This time of year, homecoming events usually entail a football game and a big halftime performance, but not this one. I was being invited to a homecoming event to celebrate the anniversary of Meadow Lakes Retirement Community. For many people who walk into the doors of Meadow Lakes, it is just another “home”. But to me, it is so much more; it is where my career began as their first Executive Director. As I walked through the front door, I was reminded of the feeling of walking back into my childhood home. It was so comfortable. My heart warmed with memories of Ms. Hawkins, Mr. and Mrs. Grimsley, Mr. Nettles, Mr. Shaw and so many others. As I walked into the dining room, the aroma of coffee hit me, reminding me of the many refills I poured on a daily basis. It is after all, where I learned that no one should have to wait on coffee, and it should never be warm – always HOT!
The new Executive Director approached me, awakened me from my fog of memories, and asked if she could show me the beauty shop. I wasn’t sure why this seemed so important – “It’s just a beauty shop, aren’t they all the same”, I asked? I cordially followed her to the beauty shop. She answered, “Well of course, but we finally just updated it and our residents are so proud of it.” Understanding her now, I looked at every bit of it and smiled with another memory of when my residents taught me that every square inch of the community should be something I need to be proud of, because it was their home.
After visiting the beauty shop, I roamed down the hall passing Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s, Ms. Wardlow’s and then towards Mr. Armstrong’s apartment, wondering about all of the names that have since replaced theirs. It was then that I was stopped by another great memory: the game room where I first learned it’s okay to have fun with my residents. I remember Ms. Berry always inviting me to play with them, no matter what it was, but I was always too busy running the business. Then one day, my firecracker Activity Director came into my office, shaking her finger at me and said, “You are going to have to learn to live in the residents’ world and stop thinking that they are living in yours!” She was right. It’s not my place, it is their home.”
A couple then passed me in the hallway: she was so sweet and with a soft voice, she greeted me; he kept walking and with a grunt said, “Hey.” I started laughing after they passed, because I was quickly reminded of Mr. and Mrs. Cook, she small and sweet, and he tall and bold. She always gave a friendly greeting and he always with discontent and irritation towards me. Until one day, Mrs. Cook came to lunch by herself. I stopped, poured her some coffee and asked about Ed. She told me he was sick. I asked if we could make him something from the kitchen. She shrugged it off, but I persisted. I went to the kitchen and helped gather the soup of the day and some cornbread (I knew it was his favorite), and took it to his apartment. I knocked at the door and a crackly bold voice said, “Come in.” Then, he saw me and grunted, “What do you want?” Although it started off a little rough, before long we were visiting away. It was then that he realized my respect for him, and from that day on, he greeted me differently, not necessarily always with joy, but he always turned and secretly grinned at me. He wasn’t about to let the rest of the world know he liked me now. Another lesson learned at Meadow Lakes: the most difficult residents deserve time and good service just like the others.
While in the dining room, it was great to see the residents and families enjoying themselves over a great meal, laughing, telling stories and showing off pictures of their family. I noticed a tall man walking my way and realized it was Eleanor’s son. I remember seeing him every Thursday when he would come have dinner with his mom. After a hearty handshake, he went on to talk about the great years his mom had at Meadow Lakes. Then, he told me what I didn’t know, “Bryan, after you left mom lived here a little bit longer, then moved to a place that was just opening up because the apartment was larger. I didn’t want her to move but you know Mom. Bryan, it was a nice place, really nice apartments, and it was newer, but she soon became ill and had to move to an Assisted Living, and it was a nice place, too. After living at Meadow Lakes and watching how you took care of my Mom and so many others, I realized it wasn’t the size of the apartment or how full the calendar is, because both of the other places did that. Bryan, your team really cared about mom. It was home for us. The other places were just apartments.”
I do not get to hear many of the positives, typically, my mailbox is full of misunderstandings or unfulfilled expectations. But maybe, just maybe, I finally realized I had succeeded – at least for Eleanor and her family.
At the end of my visit, I was given the honor of having my picture taken with the Homecoming Queen, Mrs. Davis, who was the first resident I ever moved in, and the last one still living at Meadow Lakes today.
Nothing has really changed. Still today, as I walk into a Sagora community, the aroma of coffee, the laughter of the residents, the proud families watching over their loved ones…nothing has changed. All that really matters is the residents, the rest is noise and distraction.
Nothing has changed, the resident always comes first.