Our sense of community is one of the things we’re most proud of, and there are many people that contribute to that special environment. At Peace Memorial Manor in Downer’s Grove Illinois, there are many longstanding traditions that engage residents in meaningful ways. Rose Malcolm, community manager, explains in a recent interview:
How long have you been with Embrace Living Communities and what initially drew you to the organization?
This past March marked 18 years working at Embrace Living Communities. Before joining the organization I did home deliveries to seniors with my children, so I’ve been working with seniors for a while. I worked for DuPage Senior Citizen Council and ran the dining program at Castle Towers for a few years. That program was very volunteer based, so a lot of residents in Castle Towers volunteered in my program and I got to know them and the manager there. I liked the environment, so once they told me there was an opening for a manager position at one of the communities, I applied.
What’s your day-to-day role as a community manager include?
Well, it’s a little bit of everything. There’s a lot of paperwork for HUD- it’s very compliance heavy- but what I like is the interaction with the people. A lot of my job has to do with staff, teamwork, working together. My staff is very self-motivated, so it’s not like I have to go back and tell them what to do, but my role is to keep us on track and focused on the residents.
What are the things that make Peace Memorial Manor a strong community?
I always tell people when they first move in that the other residents will be excited to get a new neighbor. They’ll usually introduce themselves and invite them along to join an event or activity.
Part of it is that the building is old and established, so there’s a culture, a strong skeleton of activities and things that happen, which shift to accommodate the needs of the residents coming in. Also, the way the building is set up makes it easier for people to socialize because it’s open and there are a lot of public spaces where people can gather.
What are some favorite traditions and activities the community enjoys during the holidays?
Christmas holidays here are a lot of fun. We always do something called ‘Hanging of the Green.’ I think we have 5 Christmas trees here, so the residents usually get in groups and decorate. There are always cookies that the residents make, I have a secret apple cider recipe, we play music, and that gets the holidays started.
We have a lot of groups that come in to perform around this time of year. Last week, a choir and jazz band and ensemble from Herrick Middle School performed for residents. We also have a group from Peace Church in Palos Park who have been coming once a year to bring our residents homemade ornaments. Some residents keep their ornaments out all year long, others save them for the holiday season and put them by their door during the holiday season.
Residents do the New Year’s Eve celebrations themselves. They do a potluck, so the residents may bring in some dishes to share. One resident’s brother is a DJ so he plays records for them. The holidays are really nice here.
How did those traditions develop with the groups that visit the community?
Well, Peace Church was the original founder of this community, so that relationship has existed since the beginning. Our relationship with Herrick Middle School is ongoing; their choir’s pianist actually has her own music school and her students performing here is a newer tradition. Many of our relationships are longstanding.
How do these different events and activities come to fruition?
We do have an activity committee that meets monthly, and any residents who are interested can join. Different residents contribute different things when we have events. For example, for the Christmas party we just had this week, some residents ordered various things, and one resident made arrangements with the entertainer. Our service coordinator and I also took care of some things, but we don’t have the time to devote to planning. All of the activities in the building really are driven by the needs of the residents who have been been there. They’re the driving force, we just assist them.
The types of events and activities we host do evolve. Our Christmas party event changed from a sit down formal dinner to a cocktail party because we don’t always have the manpower to organize an event like that. People do want to participate in the activities, but the number of people who are able to do the work to put them together is getting smaller and smaller. But our Christmas party really was a lot of fun because people could move around and mingle, and it was a lot less expensive and required less setup.
Why is it important for residents to become engaged in activities?
We have a committee and we ask people to participate, but we respect the choices people make. Just recently, this past Saturday there was a woman at our Christmas party who was just going to take her plate upstairs and eat her food. But I said “stay,” and we wound up dancing and laughing, so sometimes people do need to be encouraged to participate. It was a good time, gentlemen who I could not picture dancing were dancing, people were having fun, and that’s important.
In all your time working with Embrace Living Communities, how has it impacted your life?
I’m aging, when I started I was nowhere near old enough to live here, and now I’m older than people moving in. So a couple things stand out, especially at this time of year. We had a resident whose husband passed away on Christmas Eve and I remember being so sad for her, but she said “why be sad? What better time for a man of faith to die than on Christmas Eve?” So people here approach the end of life differently, and I’ve learned that from them.
Also, we spend our time taking care of residents, but we’re also there for our employees. Many of us have aging family members who need our help, so we understand that family comes first and are willing to work things out so that all of our needs are taken care of.
Feel free to contact us for any future resident, current resident, or general inquiries.