This week’s Friday Focus takes us to Cedar Lane Senior Living Community in Leonardtown, Maryland. We spent some time talking with VerNitta Tyson about the work her organization does to provide living assistance to the elderly and disabled in the community.
Q: Tell us a little about Cedar Lane. When were you founded and who do you serve?
A: Cedar Lane Senior Living Community is a collaboration of 501 (c)(3) non-profit organizations serving seniors and disabled adults in Leonardtown, Maryland since 1977. We serve both the elderly and disabled residents by providing retirement living, assisted living and respite care in 209 private, studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. Two of our three buildings offer HUD-subsidies which affords low-income seniors and the disabled an option in today’s housing market. Our third building offers market-rate units that allow low- and moderate-income residents to age-in-place in a community that features a full range of convenient activities and services.
Unlike traditional HUD-facilities, Cedar Lane offers our residents a wide range of services and activities to help them age in place with maximum health and quality of life. In fact, in many ways, Cedar Lane serves as a community senior center for our residents providing daily meals, as well as wellness, educational and socialization activities.
We are really focused on helping seniors stay in their homes for as long as possible and avoid premature placement in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Between our convenient location, a host of on-site amenities, and a wide range of free and fee-based services, residents are able to maintain their independence with the comfort of knowing they can access supportive care if and when they need it.
Q: What has been your favorite moment working for Cedar Lane?
A: With a 36-year history, it’s really hard to pinpoint a favorite moment. It’s more about the experience of witnessing seniors and families as their lives are transformed: We get to witness how having secure housing, food and a community of friends transforms seniors who were stressed and anxious into happy, active, thriving members of the community. Having that piece of mind from knowing that their needs for housing, meals, and care are going to be taken care of, allows our residents to relax and open up; they take up new hobbies, pursue new interests and find new friends.
We’ve seen families build better relationships once the stress and responsibility of caregiving is removed because mom or dad is receiving care and support through our programs. We’ve actually had family members say, “You gave me my mom back.” Once a daughter no longer has to be “the enforcer,” to make sure mom takes her medication or eats, there is less tension and stress on the relationship and both mother and daughter can just enjoy each other. It is a special feeling to be a part of helping families find joy again.
Q. What do you see as your biggest challenge?
A. Funding is always a challenge for non-profits. Cedar Lane’s affiliation with HUD, which provides rent subsidies for our low-income residents, certainly helps. But, rental income does not cover the cost of facility upgrades, meals, resident activities or any of the programs and services we provide to help our residents stay active and engaged and enjoy a good quality of life.
The hardest thing for our staff is to see a need for services or support that our residents simply do not have the funds to pay for. Many of our residents were homemakers or farmers that now have very little income in their retirement years. Even those that worked and saved for retirement are living longer, or have more needs, or have just been hit hard by these difficult economic times. These are people who did what they were supposed to throughout their lives, but still can’t afford all the support they need in their later years. It’s always a challenge to fund the kinds of things that residents need on an ongoing basis, like our dining program and services like medication management. That’s why Cedar Lane relies on donations and volunteer support from the community.
Q: What are some ways that people could get involved?
A: There so many opportunities for people to support their senior neighbors, whether they live in the house next door, or in a community like Cedar Lane. The important thing is to get involved. Check on a senior that you know to see if she or he needs anything. Make a donation to support senior programs and activities like those we provide at Cedar Lane. Volunteer as a companion to accompany a senior to a doctor’s appointment. Get your kids involved so they are not uncomfortable around older, frail people. Cedar Lane always has opportunities for volunteers and for donors to connect with seniors and support our work.
Q. Can you give any advice for prospective non-profit employees?
A. It is really important to have a passion for whatever it is that you do. This is especially true in the nonprofit sector, where the jobs don’t always come with glamorous perks or high-dollar salaries. When you are serving people, you have to have heart. That passion shows through in your work. If you don’t believe in the cause, it’s just not going to work.