When Marlyn Kinnamon and her husband Frank moved into Manor North in August 1995, Marlyn was just shy of her 60th birthday. “I was young and healthy and loved what I saw in Willow Valley Communities,” says Marlyn. “I knew I could continue to grow here.”
Marlyn, now 80, looks very much as she did when she moved into the communities. Her glowing skin, bright blue eyes, and boundless energy speak of a life that’s lived every day with enthusiasm and joy. “I take care of myself,” explains Marlyn. “And how can you not be happy with all the wonderful opportunities we have here?” Her positive energy is contagious, and when she talks about her husband Frank, who was older than she and passed away two years ago, you can see how his love is still working to set the tone for this remarkable woman’s life. Marlyn is meticulous about her fitness—she is in the Cultural Center fitness center or walking around the communities almost every day. Most of all, she spends a lot of time thinking about the things she’s grateful for—and one thing that’s at the top of her list is that she moved to Willow Valley when she did. “It was a great decision,” says Marlyn.
Marlyn is part of a trend that Willow Valley Communities has seen since Manor opened in 1984—the communities have always attracted new residents of an age younger than the national average. Nationally, the average age at entry for senior living communities is over 82; Willow Valley’s, at just above 75, has remained fairly constant overall since the 1980’s, with some specific residence types as low as 69. The trend, of course, extends beyond chronological age to physiological age and psychological age. Willow Valley Communities tends to attract people who are looking to engage and learn and, as Marlyn said, “grow.”
Redefining the Standard
With fewer than five percent of those eligible to live in communities like Willow Valley choosing to do so, the senior living field has some serious work to do. More often than not, decisions to make a move are delayed as long as possible, and the move is viewed as a need-driven one rather than a desire-driven one. Through its approach to innovation and engagement in its communities, Willow Valley works to create a different reality. “Our Communities are about life—even more than they are about Lifecare,” says John G. Swanson, President of Willow Valley Living, the management and development company for Willow Valley Communities, referring to the long-term care coverage that is part of every resident’s program. “We want to rival the amenities and programs one might find in the finest active adult community while also providing the security of knowing that if additional needs arise in the future, that’s taken care of—logistically and financially.”
The youngest of those interested in Willow Valley, chronologically, are members of the Baby Boomer generation, a cohort with an age range of 51 – 70. With a minimum entry age of 55, Willow Valley sees a broad range of ages, with many now falling into the Boomer group and most, regardless of age, fitting the profile of the type of person who has inspired Willow Valley’s commitment to Life Lived Forward.
Willow Valley has long had a philosophy of designing for people, not just creating someone’s idea of what a senior might want. One prime example is the Fitness and Aquatics Center at the Cultural Center; it was created to be “athlete-worthy” by consulting with and learning from some of the top fitness experts in the country. The result is that very serious athletes find in Willow Valley a place that they can continue to train, improve, and compete. (See Passion for Sport)
Like Marlyn and Frank, many of the people who have moved to Willow Valley over the years have been ground-breakers, attracted to the things that made Willow Valley different from other communities. In the beginning, when many of the residential components of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC’s) were emerging from a care model, Willow Valley came from a hospitality model. “This set the course for a scrupulous attention to detail and an eye-to-eye customer focus that many communities had to work years to adopt,” says Kim Daly Nobbs, Chief Marketing Officer for Willow Valley Living. “In fact, many are still working to adopt this approach.”
Examples of the innovation that runs deep in the DNA of Willow Valley Communities can be seen throughout. And that innovation is resonating with people—even those who might have crossed the idea of senior living communities off their list of options. The Baby Boomers in particular have a broad set of desires when thinking about their next stage of life. Together with their vibrant kindred spirits from other generations, they are inspiring Willow Valley, and the senior living field as a whole, to think broadly about what is possible.
If Willow Valley desires to keep the attention of its most active prospective residents while continuing to enhance the opportunities for current residents, the organization knows it must keep raising the bar. The Baby Boomers will help keep the senior living field on its toes in this regard. Andrew Carle, the Founding Director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, notes that his generation has revolutionized virtually every product and service in the American marketplace. “We’re the reason there are a hundred flavors of baby food. As we get old enough to retire and go into senior housing, do you think we’re suddenly going to settle for one flavor [of anything]?”
According to Kim Daly Nobbs, Willow Valley’s vision is “to positively transform the way aging is viewed and experienced in our world.” She notes that this dream “is illustrated by how life here inspires each person to embrace the possibilities of a life lived forward.” And far from ‘one flavor’, Willow Valley offers many somethings for everyone.
A Matter of Lifestyle
A 2015 study by Gallup revealed that preferences among members of the Baby Boomer generation vary more than traditional stereotypes would suggest. On top of that challenge is the need to engage current residents ranging in age from 55 – 105. How can any one location possibly appeal to such a diverse group? Lifestyle programming like Willow Valley’s award-winning bill of fare encompasses a wide range of experiences and appeals to both familiar and new trends. Community events such as hikes around scenic Lancaster County, aquatics, wellness classes, art shows, lectures, and a movie series, truly offer something for every taste and ability.
Educational opportunities cover a wide range of topics from oil painting to tap dancing. Hands-on, expert training is available to grow residents’ comfort level and experience with technology, and continuing education classes at local universities are available to help Willow Valley residents expand their horizons. As Kurt Schlabach, President/CEO of RetirementHomeTV, writes, “Retirement living isn’t about the end stage of anything. It’s about new beginnings and growth.” Willow Valley’s mantra Life Lived Forward speaks to the essence of this philosophy. The organization even took the word “retirement” out of its name several years ago because it did not fully express the level of engagement of the people who live in the communities, whether or not they were still doing paid work.
“We have so many residents who spend their days contributing to others, enjoying life and pursuing their passions,” says John Swanson. “Willow Valley’s vision is to create spaces and opportunities for that vibrant energy to thrive.”