My wife and I have discovered many positive aspects of living at Willow Valley Communities since we moved here nearly three years ago. However, for us, the friendliness and social components of the community are at the absolute top of that list. This social aspect of Willow Valley is difficult to know about or appreciate until one actually moves here.
Despite being a very social place, it remains up to the residents how much, or how little, they want to be involved socially, and everyone respects that decision. Residents can be social, yet still have their privacy. Your residence is your “castle” and folks rarely stop by unannounced.
Willow Valley Communities are designed to encourage residents to engage. Most of the apartment residences have central core areas specifically designed to encourage socializing. In these core areas there are often reading areas, libraries, areas to play cards, areas to just sit and gather, etc. These special places are where you run into residents you know and spend a little time to stop and chat. A few of the smaller apartment residences, like the Vistas, Garden Apartments, and Spring Run, do not have a big core area, so a large breakfast area serves that same purpose. This encourages socializing so that everyone gets to know his or her neighbors. Residents at Spring Run claim their “Happy Hour” is from 7-9AM!
The evening meal is probably the biggest social element. Willow Valley offers meal plans, which, by the way, are a very sweet deal. Even if you choose not to purchase a meal plan, the restaurants are very affordable. It is very easy to get together with neighbors and friends at one of the many campus restaurants. My wife and I also love how at most restaurants you can just show up and ask to be seated with other folks, if you would like. We have met so many wonderful couples and singles this way. Some have become good friends and the others I can now at least say, “hello”, by name, when I see them in other places. I know of at least one community restaurant that has a big “Fun with Ones” table for single folks on Saturday night.
Another place to socialize is at one of the many free concerts (usually 2-3 per week) at Willow Valley. My wife and I love getting to a concert early just to chitchat with folks we may not have seen in a while.
There are over 100 clubs at Willow Valley and you really do develop a special closeness with folks when you share an interest. Many social activities are initiated by residents, such as game or card playing groups, monthly “go out to lunch/breakfast groups”, or pot luck dinner get-togethers. Barbara and Wally Gordon, at Spring Run, reserve a table for 6 each night at the Four Seasons restaurant. Barbara works hard at trying to rotate everyone into her table. I also know of regular building and/or floor parties organized by residents.
Then you have the efforts to welcome new residents. There are mentoring programs, but we were also besieged with dinner invitations when we first moved in. My wife and I try to do the same when new residents move in. Then you have folks like Elaine and Ed Eichner, who host a monthly get together at their apartment for new residents in the Manor community in which they live. Also, Willow Valley Communities organizes a welcoming lunch and monthly happy hours for new residents.
When you know your neighbors, there is a sense of belonging and caring that evolves. When you are ill, people are truly concerned and send “get well soon” cards. When you do something helpful, you get “thank you” cards. If residents put on a show or provide a lecture, friends and neighbors show up to provide support, whether they are interested in your topic or not. A serious music concert might draw 100 people, but a performance with a bunch of amateur residents, such as the Spring Run Follies, might have to have two evening performances to serve all who would like to attend!
Residents often mention how almost everyone “leaves their careers at the door” when they move into Willow Valley, which puts all residents on the same level. A former elementary school teacher could just as easily become good friends with a former college president, a former doctor, or a former farmer. Most residents also leave their egos at the door when they move to Willow Valley.
Another element is the social interaction with Willow Valley Communities’ team members, who are all very friendly. My wife and I are always so impressed when they address you by name. I think the residents are particularly fond and appreciative of the friendly restaurant staffs, which are usually college or high school students. Residents get to know the servers and take an interest in their schoolwork and educational plans.
I have seen so many recent studies that show how seniors who have a strong social element to their lives live longer and have better health than those who do not. My wife and I had a nice group of friends before moving to Willow Valley, but the social community we now have here has reached an even higher level.
By Dale Johnson
Dale Johnson and his wife Christine moved to Willow Valley Communities from Towson, MD in 2015. Dale taught geography at Towson University, while Christine was a director of human resources with McCormick & Co. the international spice company.