Blog: Roger Myers

Roger Myers is the president and CEO of Presbyterian Villages of Michigan. He is responsible for executive staff leadership and helping develop policy and strategic planning decisions. Roger will be writing about aging baby boomers in SE Michigan from an economic development perspective.

Post No. 3

Rebuilding Community Trust

Because of the negative stereotypes and perceptions of senior living and elder care in Michigan and across the nation, there is often a resistance and suspicion from some communities about those who develop senior residential communities. Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) fortunately has a tradition as a non-profit organization that puts all of its resources back into customer and family service.

But even with that kind of reputation, trust always has to be proven through action. First, though, there are a whole range of senior residential myths that seem to keep cropping up during planning commission meetings, city council discussions, and other forums. Here’s the short list:

· Low-income seniors will attract crime.
· Senior communities will attract too much traffic and bad drivers.
· There will be a constant stream of ambulances and sirens.
· Senior residential settings are flooded with lights and are visually disruptive.
· Too many “outsiders” will come to visit and cause trouble.
· Negative community economic impact.
· Tax drain on local government.

None of these assertions are true. Once we disprove the myths, PVM invariably has had excellent, strong partnerships with the communities it serves.

Building Real Partnerships

Other communities, however, seek us out because they’re desperate for quality living communities for elders.

The little town of Rosebush, north of Mt. Pleasant, has only one stop sign. But it has 6 nearby churches, with 3 different denominations. And a lot of seniors.  They all partnered together to work with PVM in building an assisted living village in their little town. A husband and wife living in Rosebush Manor wrote to me in March of this year. They represent the idea of what a “village” is supposed to be. In this case, many of the residents actually grew up with one another 40, 50, or 60 years earlier – reunited in a fellowship of friendship. Here’s a quote:

"It almost always happens when a new resident comes in: 'That’s Lena, we worked at the Creamery together!; That’s Don, we were in the same high school class!'"

PVM is a faith-based organization, but we are not a religious institution, although we were formed by Presbyterians who wanted to show the care and service for persons of all faith through action. As a result, we have lots of different religious partners. For example, we’ve built 4 different villages in partnership with Lutheran Homes of Michigan.

In fact, when we were struggling to build trust in applying for permission to build a PVM village in the City of Warren, Catholic Cardinal Maida sent a personal note to the Mayor urging the city to allow PVM to serve that community because we hire staff locally, “enhance the beauty of the neighborhoods” and “contribute to the local quality of life.”

When PVM initiates the conversation in a community, we first look at the level of need. The problem is, there’s an under-commitment to quality elder living communities all over the state. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about low income, middle, income or high income residents.

Quality & Reasonable Cost

People often ask "How you can charge low-income seniors rates ranging from $100 (or less) to $600 a month for quality that would typically cost 10 times that much?". The first and primary reasons are simple:

1) Your motive must be pure.
2) You must be uncompromising in the quality outcome desired.
3) You have to have hard-core work ethic.
4) Finally, you need to have a sophisticated understanding about leveraging multiple financial resources to make the outcomes happen.

In PVM’s case, we leverage a mix of government funds, foundation giving and other resources and credits to keep quality extremely high for those with low incomes.

In Detroit, we’ve built 5 villages, with a 6th one to break ground on June 5th. The quality is extremely high, because of the reasons listed above. Is there a waiting list? You bet. Across the US, there are 10 low income seniors standing in line for each residential apartment or unit that becomes available.

But keep this in mind: The basic benchmarks for quality and service are the same in Detroit as they are at our high-income villages like the one in Harbor Springs.

Breaking Down Walls

I think we should break down walls between the cities and towns we’re in - and the villages we build. In Detroit, the larger neighborhoods we’re in have meetings, games, and association gatherings in the community rooms at our villages. In Detroit’s Brush Park Manor Paradise Valley village, there’s some sort of community event taking place almost every night of the week. The same goes for PVM in Holly, Pontiac, Westland, Chesterfield, and others.

The other key to making it all work is engagement with leadership in each locality. We create Community Governing Boards everywhere. In Holly, our board includes the police chief, a City Council member and others who are deeply vested and committed to the residents.

In community just outside Jackson (Blackman Township), a member of the township’s Board of Trustees was so passionate about a critical vote to put a PVM village there, he temporarily checked himself out of the hospital for a heart condition to cast his vote to assure a positive outcome!

People don’t have that kind of commitment without trust. I believe that trust should rarely be talked about – but proven through action. That’s how you create lasting relationships with communities.