This essay by Chaplain Jacquie Robb was originally published in the Spring Lake Village newsletter.
We talk a lot about community here at Spring Lake Village. The conversations are usually about joining the community. . .what it’s like to eat with others in the dining room, how to navigate the programs and events. It’s only later, after residents have been here a while, that I hear about the heart of community rather than the logistics.
Most communities form around an intention, from the ancient spiritual communities of many faith traditions – the monasteries of Christians and Buddhists, the Hindu ashrams – to the 60s communes and the modern eco-villages. It got me wondering if we hold a common intention here at Spring Lake Village.
When I ask people why they moved here, what I hear most often is “so I won’t be a burden to my children,” or “so there will be people to take care of me.” Seldom do I hear anyone say that their primary motive for moving here is to be part of a community. It seems almost an unintended consequence of their motives.
And yet, here we are – all 450+ residents and over 250 staff – living and working together. How might we refine our intention in living here to develop more of a sense of community, of “being in it together?”
This takes time. We don’t know how this community works on us until we’ve lived here for a while. Many of those who evacuated last year returned with a renewed sense of community. Did this fade over time for you or did it grow? Did you make new friends, deepen the friendships you had?
Maybe we don’t know until we’ve lived here for a while how we will grow into community. I see so many residents find a renewed purpose, rejoicing that being retired doesn’t mean retiring; living into a growing understanding that a sense of true community, like true friendship, means thinking about what’s good for “us” and not just me.
Maybe we can’t know until we’ve lived here for a while the joys and challenges and ultimately the great freedom inherent in interdependence.
Many of us have helped our children’s schools, our neighborhoods or towns before coming here, but it takes a while to learn how we can serve this type of community. Planning movies and concerts, joining a committee, visiting those who need a bit of company are all manifestations of being of service. But there’s also an inner attitude that I hear expressed by so many of us – one of gratitude. Gratitude for being cared for by staff, gratitude for feeling safely held through the many transitions we face at this age. Gratitude for the company we share, on this sacred journey through life. I suggest that gratitude expressed and shared is in itself an incredible and enriching service for those offering and those receiving the thanks.
This month, as we celebrate all we are thankful for, we can open ourselves even further to the gratitude of those who make up this community. The axiom “it takes a village” becomes ever clearer as we settle into living here. And the longer we’re here, it seems our community’s intention might best be expressed by our gratitude and service.
As Jennings Court, a Covia Affordable Community in Santa Rosa, celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer, its first residents are reflecting on their initial impressions.
“I was one of the first 8 people to move in,” says Fred Campbell. “And the day I walked into the facility, I fell in love with the structure, the ambiance.” Campbell, who had lost his business as a hairdresser in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, had been cleaning houses in Southern California when he learned that Jennings Court was being built. “I always thought [low income housing] was bad stuff because that’s how the movies always show it,” he said. Instead, “On a scale of 1-10, I’d say my first impression was an 11.”
“It was a rural setting then,” when Jennings Court opened in 2008, says Penni Colley. “Across the street were horses grazing around a barn. Of course, that’s not there any more, but it was so beautiful.”
Colley had been surprised there was still room in the new building when she received a letter saying there was an apartment available for her. “At my age and being low income, I didn’t think I would ever have a new apartment. You just kind of have to forget that because the chances of me having a brand new apartment were slim. When I saw how beautiful these were, I just couldn’t get over it.”
Colley explains that the apartments hadn’t filled due to the strict qualification requirements. Residents must be 62 or older and “very, very, very – three veries – low income,” she says.
“They were offering me such a sweet deal on the rent that I figured it would be a dump. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find how nice it is,” says Roger Hanelt, who had been homeless before moving into Jennings Court. “It’s been a very healing environment for me. Because I’ve gone through highs and lows and this place was definitely a rescue.”
Campbell remembers, “The day we got in, I stayed most of the time looking at the courtyard, so beautiful. Now I watch the seasons change with all of these trees outside my front door.”
Jennings Court has 54 apartments that look out on a central courtyard that contains a garden tended by the residents and a fountain donated by Spring Lake Village, another Covia community in Santa Rosa. It was built through a partnership between Covia and Burbank Housing with funding from HUD and the city of Santa Rosa. Along with housing, Jennings Court provides service coordination and programs such as a weekly Market Day and monthly visit from the Bookmobile.
Colley remembers “When we had our very first welcome party out in the patio out there, I just ran around to anyone who looked like they were a suit and said, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’
Before she moved in, “I remember thinking, ‘oh, well, I’ll have to let that thought go. I’m never going to have my own new place. And then God blessed me with this. And I just have a wonderful new apartment. Everything in it was new. It smelled new. There were no residual crumbs in the drawers that anybody had missed. So. Gratitude.”
“I kept telling myself how fortunate I was. I’m still poor as a church mouse but I’m not unhappy,” says Campbell. “Every time I think about Jennings Court when I’m away from it, it’s home.”