Building a Culture of Wellness in Affordable Housing

In today’s world, older adult consumers seek active communities that provide a variety of supportive services to facilitate aging in place. As an affordable housing provider since 1980, Eaton Senior Communities (ESC) has been purposeful in its mission “to provide affordable housing in a service-rich environment that enables all to live to their fullest potential.” Over the years, ESC’s culture of wellness has grown through perseverance and creative partnerships, leading to an array of wellness options for its residents.

Since its inception, ESC has focused on providing onsite supportive services. Reverend Jim Elland, retired ESC Director of Mission and Ministry and pastor of ESC’s founder, West Alameda Community Baptist Church, was with ESC almost from the beginning. Elland states, “The church always had a vision to serve the community. In the late 1960’s, the city determined the number one community need was ‘decent, affordable housing for old people.’ The church gave up its land to build ESC and church members were purposeful in designing a community where seniors could age in place, with common areas to enable socialization and a meal program to serve their nutritional needs.” Early on ESC staff and the church partnered to hire a social worker and create a case management team that involved a visiting nurse from a local Skilled Nursing Facility. According to Elland, “It allowed us to identify resident issues early and advocate for the resident so they could receive the supports and services they needed.”

In 2010, the organization created a strategic initiative “to achieve demonstrated change to a culture and philosophy of wellness for the organization and those we serve.” According to David Smart, President/CEO, “We emphasize to staff and the greater community that our goal at ESC is to offer everything you would find in a high-end Continuing Care Retirement Community but to make those amenities and services accessible and affordable for our income-challenged residents. We have been able to do just that by creating win-win partnerships with service providers. When we discuss wellness we are including eight dimensions: Physical, Social, Emotional, Spiritual, Nutritional, Intellectual, Environmental and Community. Our goal is to serve the whole person and to create an environment where individuals have choices in how they live their lives and live as independently as possible for as long as possible.”

ESC’s dedicated staff continues to seek out and develop relationships with community resources to provide supportive services. ESC’s HUD Service Coordinator, Gwen Million, M.S.W., has been with the organization since 1997. She works in conjunction with ESC’s Health Services Coordinator, Sarah Schoeder, L.P.N, to connect residents with onsite wellness services and community resources. ESC’s Director of Life Enrichment, Marie Quinn, coordinates with Schoeder to program a wide variety of events and find volunteers that tap into the eight dimensions of wellness. Residents and staff also come together at the monthly Wellness Committee meetings to plan activities and services that enhance the program. Building a culture of wellness depends on the quality of staff that embodies the passion for creating wellness opportunities and supportive services for residents, and ESC’s staff are dedicated to making it happen.