With over 20 years with the organization, Lillian Carter has a wealth of interactions with many different members of Embrace Living Communities. Read her interview below to learn about all the different special people she has come to look after and work with in her role as Manager of two neighboring communities, Greencastle of Englewood and Orchard Place of Englewood.
What initially drew you to Embrace Living Communities?
Well, I’d just graduated from school and interviewed with one of the managers of then Bethany Residences I & II. The onsite manager told me about some of the wonderful things that the community was having – and not just the activities, but the relationship connections, which was something I was looking for. I previously worked with an organization that was more number- driven, and they had forgotten about the human aspect of the job. I really felt they were doing a disservice to the people they cared for, so when I interviewed with Lifelink Corporation it really drew me in. I just felt like this was the company I needed to work for and I’ve been here for almost 21 years.
Working with the senior population is a very specific experience. Have you always worked with seniors in your professional career?
At my previous job, I wasn’t required to work directly with seniors, but it was a senior environment – and the treatment of them was just not ideal. [At Embrace Living Communities] it’s wonderful to have the challenge of working with this age group. You always leave whatever conversation you’re having with them as if you’ve learned something, versus you teaching them. That really drives the connection with them.
How is it being manager of two separate, although similar, communities? What’s an average day like?
Oh wow, I play many different hands. I’m here listening to positive conversation the residents are having, and it show what we do here, our purpose, it’s also an educational learning environment, so my role changes. But all in all, I think of myself as a partner here. I’m a part of this community, So it’s really hard to say you’re just a manager, because at times I’m learning more than anything, when my goal is to teach.
And I think all the staff’s role kind of bleeds into other areas. We’re definitely a strong support for each other. In my absence, or any team member’s absence, we kind of jump in and help out as much as possible. That goes for helping the residents, as well because a lot of times a different staff member will have to follow up with residents, but they are just as sincere and make sure they get the proper information. We all try to be as helpful as we can.
Describe what the Greencastle of Englewood community is like.
Well, our community is a family and a strong support system for each other. The residents and staff help and interact with each other very well. If you walk into our community, you may hear a lot of laughter. The residents even watch TV together just for companionship, and the staff will join in the group discussion (when invited of course). As far as activities go, the residents really plan a lot of their own and a lot of times the staff and I are invited. When we spearhead activities for them, they really appreciate it. Some residents don’t get out as much, due to health concerns, so they’re thankful that we really make an effort to get them involved whether it’s a personal invite, or just one of us going up to their apartment to convince them to come down. But all in all, this community functions more as family.
It’s a fact that seniors tend to be very isolated, so that’s great that the seniors in your community are very involved and planning their own activities. Why do you think they’re so engaged?
It’s part of their culture. A lot of them enjoy the same type of music, they enjoy playing cards, bingo, and various things like that. Many of their planned activities are during the daytime, so they tend to gather on their own in the evening to do some of the things that they enjoy outside of planned activities. We watch movies together. We have parties every month, we have birthday celebrations, other holiday celebrations, sometimes there are impromptu events. We try to put together different activities that our resident request, so they tend to really enjoy each other company.
More often than not, a lot of the residents have outlived their families or have family who have moved out of state, while others have lots of family visiting. It’s funny because as some families are visiting their relatives, they are introduced to their relatives’ friends in the community, and they form relationships with them, as well. The relationships that they build within the community are extremely important because they don’t always have that connection available with their own families.
We know the value of socialization for seniors, but can you speak to that in your own words?
I think one of the biggest disconnects in my generation is that we tend to forget that seniors have held valuable places in our lives, as a person ages, they begin to feel devalued. A lot of times people just want to be included – they want to have a purpose. And it can be as small as giving someone the opportunity to help out during an event. For some, it’s just a matter of being asked during the planning of an event to celebrate something that they all shared at one point. But I think these events are extremely important because it gives people things to do, something to look forward too, which is especially helpful with us being located on the southside of Chicago away from the busier side of the city. Sometimes residents don’t feel as if they can keep up with the busyness of the city, so they look toward doing a lot of indoor activities. And some don’t even have the physical ability to go to a place like the beach, so it’s important for us to hold events here in our community that they can look forward to.
What are some of the ways the community helps residents to feel more safe in a high crime environment?
Our community grounds are open to the public during the day, but are closed at night. And we’ve built a huge connection with the seventh district Chicago Police Department. We actually have a senior coordinator there, who comes out and speaks with our residents and tries to find out ways to make them feel safe. Through working with other communities in our area, they’ve discovered that we all have a lot of the same concerns. So one of the things we do is try to figure out how we can all work together to provide that safety network, rather than each group doing it on their own.
Aside from the Chicago Police Department, what other partnerships does the Greencastle and Orchard Place of Englewood community have?
One of our most valuable partnerships is Teamwork Englewood, which is an organization of individuals who have worked in the communities for 15 years or more. And it’s geared towards meeting goals while meeting the needs of our community. We also partner with Greater Chicago Food Depository, who brings canned food to residents, which is great because there are times that some of our residents don’t have the financial means to get them through the month due to the high prescription cost. We also partner with some of the individuals at Walgreens, Oak Street Health, and the Department of Human Services, which works very closely with our property. They help meet a great deal of the residents’ needs, especially since we also have a younger population here and they don’t qualify for some services because of age requirements.
How did these partnerships come about?
A lot of our partnerships are longstanding, especially with the churches in our community, because they were an integral part of bringing the housing community into Englewood. Quite a few of relationships are from our past and current residents who they felt like we can help, so they brought some of their church members and some of their organizations to be a part of ours. Also, we have an annual barbecue where the entire community is invited to be a part of.
I know that over your two decades at Embrace Living Communities, you’ve made some pretty special connections with the residents. Is there one story that sticks out about how a resident deeply affected you?
Wow, there are so many, but one really made a huge impact in how I go about my daily duties. I met her when I first came in to interview for this position at this property. I was so, so nervous and waiting to be interviewed and this lady (Annie Chapman) just came in and started a conversation with me. It wasn’t about who I was, what I was doing, or what I planned to change – it was about how I was doing, how life was treating me. She just held a full, genuine conversation with me and she’s been doing it every day since I got hired. Not only that, but she welcomed me into her whole family. She’d cook breakfast and to make sure I ate, Ms. Annie would bring it to my desk. She would not let me get away with being polite and saying ‘no thank you.’ Before I knew it, her health was declining she insisted that I take this cute miniature figurine she kept in her apartment that I commented ‘how beautiful it was’ one day. And I just felt bad because I didn’t really have anything of value to give her, but she told me, “no, you gave me what I needed – friendship.” So she definitely had a special impact on me. I learned that just being there mattered.
What are some of your goals for the Englewood community, and for Embrace Living Communities as a whole?
As far as our community, we’re just in the process of celebrating the milestones together. As a team we feel it’s really difficult for us to pull away from our day to day responsibilities, but we actually plan to take a moment to stop and participate in those milestones as they happen. There’s always work to be done, but the residents need us and depend on us being there. Sometimes I find myself stuck behind my computer and literally the resident will come get me, so it’s imperative that we support and celebrate those milestones together.
As a whole, some of our goals that I would love for our entire organization to embark in more philanthropy and to get out into the community a little bit more. Quite a few of us are actually looking into some of the major organizations, like the hunger program, to volunteer as a large group.
Feel free to contact us for any future resident, current resident, or general inquiries.