It started out as an exercise in cross training. At the conclusion, it was clearly more an exercise in connection. During our annual LifeSTEPS leadership retreat in October I decided to divide our corporate staff into two teams to plan and deliver an Ice Cream Social at two separate properties:
Vintage Square at Westward Park, a senior complex and Valley Commons East, a family complex. I wanted to engage our corporate staff in the process our field staff undertakes on a routine basis— the challenges they face and the wide variety of responsibilities they have, plus create an activity meaningful for the residents. At the day’s end each corporate team would easily check off this goal as accomplished, but what each team member gained from this exercise went so much deeper.
Here is an account from Team
#1: “We arrived at the appointed time to Vintage Square at Westward Park, and were greeted by a muster of seniors who had been patiently waiting for our appearance. These residents clearly knew how to take charge and within minutes they jumped in to help set up and get the show started. News of the Ice Cream Social had spread throughout the community and many residents were eager to attend, so it wasn’t long before a diverse group of seniors came to participate.
To identify these residents as “seniors” doesn’t begin to describe them. “What was interesting to me was the variety of people at the site. One woman I spoke with had only retired from teaching 4 months prior and another woman was a nurse who had been retired for some time- she was 90 years old!” shared Katie G. Administrative Specialist. The diversity in age and abilities was striking, and so was the obvious common bond they all seemed to share. LifeSTEPS
CFO, Jody McKay, was touched by this, “It was heartwarming to witness the residents looking out for one another; those more mobile helped those less mobile, served them, wiped their face, etc. They truly care for one another; they’re family.”
The resident’s interaction during the Ice Cream Social allowed our team a valuable glimpse into what LifeSTEPS has been building over time through the dedicated work of the LifeSTEPS’ Social Worker—a community that had developed connections over countless Ice Cream Socials and Bingo nights. The residents of Vintage Square painted us a beautiful picture of what community looks like. “
Corporate Team # 2 had a slightly different view of community at the Valley Commons East…. “We arrived at the family property with plenty of time to spare. In fact, even after getting everything set up and ready for an onslaught of hungry ice cream eaters, there was no one to be seen so we decided to spread out across the complex to deliver a personal invitation door to door. This canvassing effort uncovered several surprising revelations.
One revelation was that despite this property being a “multi-family” property, many who answered their doors were actually seniors living alone. These residents were delighted to have a visitor— smiling faces, who for a brief minute, were not only encouraging them to come to the Ice Cream Social, but listening intently to what they had to say. We had the immense privilege of hearing these residents share everything from their unique histories to ideas for future LifeSTEPS classes. In as few as two minutes our team was able to give each resident a little of what they needed most—a sense that they were not alone.
It wasn’t long before the children began to return home from school that the whole complex seemed to come alive. As kids raced for the community room, a backpack flapping over their shoulders and mom or dad in tow, it was as if new life was breathed back into the community. And there is nothing more contagious than the excitement of happy children! Other residents came out of their apartments to investigate—and ended up joining in the fun. An impromptu group of older women brought their chairs out onto the cool grass and enjoyed ice cream sundaes and some long overdue conversation. Inside the community room, young moms got acquainted; several had never even met before, but soon they discovered their kids were in the same
class and with every new resident who came, a new foundation for community connection was built.
Some connections were also discovered among our team members themselves. We saw our HR Director Krista Vera, in a whole new light as she reverted back to her days as a preschool teacher to connect to the little ones; and as Fund Development Assistant Kellie D. handed out new backpacks and school supplies, she was reminded how securing in-kind donations has the potential to change young lives.”
My original intention in this team exercise was more than fulfilled –both corporate teams came away from this activity not only with a stronger connection to the amazing work of our field staff, but also to a deeper connection to the LifeSTEPS mission to maximize the strengths of individuals and build resilient communities. Most importantly, no matter what role each staff member plays in their day to day work —corporate leadership, staff support or direct service field staff, all who participated in the Ice Cream Social exercise had a renewed appreciation that we are all an integral part of “Team LifeSTEPS” and each of us feel very privileged to be able to do this life changing work.