Embracing Change to Strengthen a Tradition of Care

Embracing Change to Strengthen a Tradition of Care

In 1976, Paul and Esther Moyer were hired to help inspire growth and change at Souderton Mennonite Homes. As the community’s last couple in leadership, they led the charge for a multi-decade period of expansion and advancement – which allowed Souderton Mennonite Homes to serve more residents and provide an enhanced level of care. When recently asked if the many changes were difficult to implement in such a traditional and long-standing community, Paul and Esther glanced at each other with amused, knowing smiles.

“Yes, you could definitely say there were challenges associated with the changes,” said Paul. But, in the same breadth, he quickly added, “It was all worth the effort though. Just take a peek around you.” As he gestured to the bright, bustling Souderton Mennonite Homes lobby, residents, and staff were sharing their day together –  enjoying a morning snack and catching up on the latest happenings – just as they had 100 years ago.

Much like the modern, yet homey Souderton Mennonite Homes lobby, Paul and Esther represent not only the community’s impressive changes over the past few decades, but also its enduring constancy. Now residents in the apartments, Paul and Esther were more than happy to share their memories from their days as administrator and assistant administrator and to reflect on the many changes that have allowed Souderton Mennonite Homes to continue its treasured traditions of community, togetherness, and care.

A Blessed Opportunity – and a Perfect Fit

The Moyers and Souderton Mennonite Homes came together at ideal times in their respective histories. Paul had been working for his family’s feed, coal, and fuel oil business for over 30 years and was ready for a change. Both Paul and Esther had spent many years volunteering for their church and within the community. They were interested in a new opportunity that would allow them to continue their tradition of volunteering, but with four children, they needed a steady income.

They expressed their wishes with their pastor, who shared the couple’s story with the Souderton Mennonite Homes board. In 1975, the board came knocking on the Moyers’ door – although Paul and Esther asked for some time to think about their decision. Esther began volunteering at the home, and she participated in a wide variety of activities to give her a feel for the daily happenings throughout the community.

“Even though Paul’s father had lived here, we knew we had much to learn about life here – and we needed to make sure we were the right fit for the opportunity,” said Esther. “Every day, I would return home and share information about what I saw and learned with Paul, and we would talk through the decision. I was on board first, so eventually, those conversations mostly included me working to convince Paul!”

Esther was successful in her convincing, and on February 2, 1976, the Moyers joined Souderton Mennonite Homes. They were the first couple to live off-site, and this fact – as well as the overall transition itself – offered the Moyers challenges that required patience, commitment, and compassion.

“Curtis Mininger, who had been the steward when we came to the home, was involved in almost every aspect of the residents’ lives,” said Paul. “He did everything from assist with nursing care to fix broken glasses. His office drawers were overflowing with tools he used for maintenance and repairs. The residents were accustomed to this level of involvement, and in the early days, the residents were hesitant to turn to Esther and myself, as we weren’t residents ourselves.”

The Moyers spent much of their early days quietly weaving themselves into the fabric of life at the home – and earning residents’ trust.

“We didn’t hesitate to come when we were needed,” said Esther. “We often drove out to the home in the middle of the night if there was a thunderstorm, so that we could sit with the residents in the chapel, where they felt the safest. We wanted every resident to know that we were there for them.”

As time passed, residents began to seek out Paul and Esther about their needs, and in turn, Souderton Mennonite Homes became a second home for the Moyers – but they knew it was a home that needed change.

“None of the rooms had private bathrooms, and there was absolutely no air conditioning anywhere,” said Paul. “Staff and volunteer residents worked in multiple areas, so it wasn’t unusual for someone to work in laundry in the morning, dining mid-day, and then housekeeping in the afternoon. There was zero departmental structure, and given our steady growth in residents – as well as the progress of the outside world around us – we knew that we had a lot of work to accomplish.”

“Hitting the Gas” on a Vision for the Future

“When the board approached us about coming to Souderton Mennonite Homes to help them with changes and growth, they already had the plans in their hands!” said Paul. “So, once we stepped into our roles, it didn’t take long before we started to implement them.”

The first plans included an expansion that would add 45 nursing beds and four-plex cottages – projects that were completed by 1980. In 1982, another expansion added the Summit dining room and 38 additional accommodations including nine personal care rooms, 18 studio apartments, and 11 one-bedroom apartments.

“Very early in my role as steward, one of the board members said to me that someone really needed to hit the gas on the needed changes at the home,” said Paul. “Years later, when we were busy with yet another large project, he approached me again at a meeting and joked that now we needed to hit the brakes!

Paul and Esther were dedicated to improvements wherever they were needed. Esther, an organizer by nature, helped set up individual departments for services like laundry, housekeeping, and dining.

“Throughout the 1980s, changing regulations impacted almost every aspect of our daily operations,” said Esther. “It was a new way of thinking – but one that ultimately not only allowed us to meet the new requirements, but also enhanced our ability to provide a higher level of service and care.”

A common concern for the residents was that their costs might increase with all of the enhancements to the home – but the board worked hard through each project to ensure a solid financial foundation for every stage of growth.

“Every expansion was met with demand from new residents who wanted to live here,” said Paul. “In many cases, apartments were sold before they were even fully built – tangible proof that the work we were doing was allowing us to better serve the growing needs of the broader community.”

Navigating the Challenges of Change

Even though the growth allowed the Souderton Mennonite Homes family to expand, as well as offered the residents enhancements to their lives that they enjoyed, change always presents challenges.

“We are a traditional community, and as we expanded over the years, helping residents through those changes was an integral part of our role as administrators,” said Esther.

Residents weren’t shy about expressing their feelings about the many physical changes they saw – from the loss of the apple orchards in one of the expansions to the new carpet added in the main building. Furthermore, with every new regulation and process enhancement, residents and staff alike needed to adjust to further tweaks in their daily activities.

“Communication and compassion were essential to helping the community understand what – and why – particular changes were happening,” said Esther. “Many a great idea came from interactive discussions with residents and staff!”

Passing the Baton – and Enjoying the Rewards

In 1993, Margaret Zook – a bright leader whom Paul and Esther had hired to help with human resources and public relations – became the first sole administrator for Souderton Mennonite Homes. The expansion efforts that Paul and Esther had shepherded continued under Margaret’s strong leadership, beginning with an impressive 75-apartment expansion – a project that allowed the community to welcome even more residents home.

Even though they were no longer administrators, the Moyers remained closely involved in life at Souderton Mennonite Homes. Paul helped with the sales of the apartments for a short time, eventually settling into a nine-year role as the groundskeeper. He enjoyed the opportunity immensely, as it kept him close to the community he loved and allowed him to be outside for much of his day.

Esther continued to help Margaret drive the winds of change. She served as the director of finance for a time, and was then tasked with setting up a brand new department as the first director of purchasing, a role she held for nine years.

In December 2004, Paul and Esther became residents at Souderton Mennonite Homes, and today, they take full advantage of the thriving community they helped nurture during their years of service. They are quick to praise the hard work of every department – although Paul clearly has a special place in his heart for the dining team, headed by Ted Gody, who Paul hired over 20 years ago.

“Ted and the dietary department deserve an award for every meal they prepare,” said Paul. “Esther and I savor each entrée that comes across our plate – from corn on the cob in the summer to the latest fall desserts of pineapple upside-down cake and German chocolate cake. We haven’t felt the need to cook in years!”

The couple participates in a wide range of activities, such as movie and game nights, special events, and community walks.

“Since we’ve lived here, there have continued to be many wonderful changes that offer new opportunities at every turn,” said Esther. “For example, Tasia Coblentz, fitness center coordinator, is constantly introducing new ideas to encourage both health and togetherness.”

Esther is quick to point out that you won’t find Paul or herself on any committees (since their voices “were heard for long enough”) – but even as residents, the Moyers serve as a daily reminder of the impact that comes from embracing change to strengthen a foundation of constancy.

“Who we are as a community has never changed,” said Esther. “We are a family of people dedicated to God, to each other, and to traditions of care and service that endure. The changes we made together over the years have allowed us to continue those traditions and to serve an even greater number of residents.”

Looking back on their many decades of service – 28 years for Paul and 30 years for Esther – as well as on their happy years as residents, the Moyers remain grateful for that first knock on their door by the Souderton Mennonite Homes board over 40 years ago.

“We gladly welcomed the opportunity before us, and we are honored to have played a role in the growth of this home and community,” said Paul. “We learned a lot about change in the process, and to this day, our best advice to new residents is to be open to the diverse experiences this home offers. Change – and life – are what you make of them, and there are countless joys to be gained by opening your heart and mind to new possibilities.”