Together we empower older adults and families to lead lives of purpose and joy, guided by the Mennonite tradition of care and service to others.
The Living Branches mission statement is framed in numerous places across the three campuses. Employee meetings often start with a reading of the mission statement, and in the marketing department, we have it memorized. It is easy for the words to become meaningless or cliché. Yet, three of the words in the organization mission statement are frequently on my mind when I think about Living Branches: together, purpose, and joy. They are the words that stand out — the words that have meaning and depth. They are at the center of what we do. These words ring even truer in the Living Branches tagline: Live & Grow — Together.
While retirement communities often have a reputation of being a place with little excitement, the persons who spend time here – residents, staff, and volunteers — would claim quite the opposite. This is a place of life. This is a place of vibrancy. This is a place of growth. When you walk down the hallway you are greeted with a smile by the persons you pass. As you enter the café you see residents and staff meeting together for breakfast. You can hear laughter from down the hall. It is a place where friendships are made, faith is strengthened, and a community is growing. It is easy for me to say these things, as I’ve been working here for many years, but the statements are validated by resident testimonies. In this article, we will introduce four residents to you and share their stories of life and growth at Living Branches.
Relationships Make a Difference
“I have so much to do that I have to check my calendar every day. I love it. I love to be busy.”
Janet Mininger moved to an apartment at Souderton Mennonite Homes in 2014. At first she was concerned she would be an outsider. She did not want to intrude on any social groups or infringe on someone’s volunteer position, but soon learned she was surrounded by friends. When asked what changed her opinion she shared, “A few ladies who live down the hall invited me to sit with them and that friendly outreach changed everything. Now I go on bus trips, I’ve learned new skills, and I’ve tried foods I never would have tried before.”
Janet participates in as many activities as she can. She loved to garden at her home and continues that passion at Souderton Mennonite Homes by volunteering in the outdoor gardens. She also volunteers as a cashier in The Corner Store and opens her home to potential residents for marketing tours and open houses because she enjoys meeting people. “I love sharing my experiences with visitors. I always say ‘Don’t wait too long — my husband and I waited too long. You won’t miss your home after you move in because you’re so busy and involved. And the people here care! Neighbors smile and ask how you’re doing’.”
Janet and her husband Claude were on the wait list to move to an apartment, but Claude’s health needs changed requiring hospital and Health Care center stays. Sadly he passed away before they were able to move to the community.
“I was a caregiver for ten years. I’ve been through a lot and I know the Lord gives you strength one day a time. Some people feel down, discouraged, or achey and I try to encourage them. I see it as my mission to be joyful and thankful in all things.” Janet’s daughter, who lives in Colorado, encourages Janet to do the things she loves in her new home “I enjoy the view from my patio – watching the seasons change. And I appreciate the friendliness of this community, especially now that I am a widow. I know the Lord has been with me through all of this. I feel he led me to this apartment. I love living here.” When a group of residents invited Janet to join them, she was given the opportunity to blossom in the community. She now finds joy and purpose in her days and extends that to the persons around her.
Love Through All Things
Many of us spoke the words, “In sickness and in health,” at our wedding ceremony. And if we are honest, few of us ever thought about how those words could affect our lives in fifty years. At Dock Woods there are three couples who are well known by the community. More specifically, three men who are recognized as husbands who are upholding that vow with honor.
Howard Bateman, Jim O’Reilly, and Chic Young all reside in Residential Living and their wives, Barbara, Marge, and Ethel, respectively, reside in Country Cottage, an area of the Health Care center designated for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. The husbands and wives originally lived together in their homes at Dock Woods, but as the wives’ health needs continued to change, the husbands came to realize they needed the services available at higher levels of care. The moves all happened around the same time and the men began to bond.
One evening the three men pushed their wives’ wheelchairs to the fireplace in the community center and sang along to hymns played on a cellphone. This simple act of fellowship became an evening tradition, and was soon noticed by many members of the community. Joyce Shultz, a fellow Dock Woods resident, interviewed the men and these are her reflections…
The men told me several times that their wives were good women who nurtured and cared for them through the years. They shared details of their marriages, work histories, and families. Things then turned to the present when one of the men said, “If the situation were reversed, she would be doing the same thing for me.” To watch these men feed, or at least help, their wives at dinner and communicate with them, even though the women have limited verbal skills, is a special joy for me. It seems so natural for the men to express their love with endearing words, smiles, and nudges, while stroking their wives’ hands. One evening they shared about their emotional struggles. “I cry every day,” confessed Jim. Howard offered, “I am teary-eyed when I take Barbara back to Country Cottage. It is hard.” And Chic didn’t need to say anything, as I observed the tears in his eyes. They went on to tell me they have benefitted from meeting together daily. They have become good friends and choose not to dwell on the difficulties in their lives, but rather place an emphasis on their blessings. I was reminded several times that they were not seeking notoriety in any way – it was all about their wives. The Batemans, O’Reillys, and Youngs warm my heart when I see them together.
What an incredible gift: the men are on campus and are never more than a few minutes away from their wives, they can enjoy time with their wives alongside friends who know what they are going through, and have access to the entire community and are not required to stay in the Health Care center. Even in the hardships of sickness, rather than health, these men are honoring the wedding vows they made to their wives. And they are doing it alongside one another — together.