By Susan Saldibar
We talk a lot about the benefits of intergenerational experiences for seniors. But how many operators are doing anything beyond the occasional visits from local school kids and scout troops? What about actual co-habitation? Is there anyone out there with the creativity, time, and dedication to make something like that work?
Rosemary Ramsey, founder of the non-profit The Victory Lap, is someone who is not only making it work, but with a twist: she’s placing young adults emerging from foster care inside independent senior living communities to, as she puts it, “Live, work, and ‘feel the love’.” Does it have its challenges? Sure. But what a great ray of hope in an industry struggling to rebrand itself.
The folks at WelcomeHome Software (a Foresight partner) asked me to interview Rosemary about The Victory Lap as a part of their series on innovators who are making a difference in senior living.
A Slow Start, but Picking Up Speed
Rosemary doesn’t just have the heart for inter-generational living, but the background to make it work. She worked in marketing and operations at Brookdale for 13 years. Then there’s her volunteer work mentoring young adults who have aged out of foster care. “These kids need a stable place to live, a job they don’t need a car to get to, and connections to caring adults,” Rosemary says. Then came an epiphany. “One day I’m in my office at Brookdale staring down 10,000 vacant apartments, a labor shortage, and old people who don’t want to live with a bunch of other old people and thought, ‘I can put this together.’ It took over two years to move the first participant in, but now ten have gone through the program.”
But it takes diligence and organization to make it work. “We aren’t just dropping the kids off and letting the community figure it out,” Rosemary says. First of all, these young people have to be under the supervision of an agency that supports youth who have aged out of foster care. Their appropriateness for the placement must also be vetted by the agency. Community management can then interview candidates, who are background checked like any other staff member.
“Negative stereotypes abound for foster kids, so most operators immediately think of risk,” Rosemary says. “The reality is we know more about these kids than you do about most of the people you already employ.” Upon placement, a social worker is assigned to every participant, working with management to troubleshoot any issues that arise. And, depending on the state, there may be funding available. For instance, operators in Tennessee are compensated $900 a month for their (otherwise vacant) units. The work assignments are typically in dining services and maintenance.
It’s Not Perfect, But Their Presence Creates Energy and Levity
To date, there have been no serious issues. In some cases, the young adults have lived in the community for a few months, moved out to their own apartment, and continued to work in the community. That’s successful as well. “The idea is not for them to stay forever, but to acquire new skills, earn a living, and form relationships with people who care,” Rosemary says.
The result can be transformational. “The residents take an interest in these kids, and, even when they aren’t perfect, their presence creates energy and levity,” Rosemary explains. In one case, a resident was very skeptical of the program at first, but Rosemary recalls her change of heart. “She kind of leaned into it and now she’s like, ‘Every retirement community should be doing this!’”
Which communities are best suited for the program? “The best candidates are independent living communities with open units that are located on bus routes or within walking distance to town,” Rosemary explains. “Being close to a college is even better,” she adds. But the key is to have an executive director who is enthusiastic. “It’s all about leadership,” Rosemary says. “If the ED is behind it, everybody else tends to follow.”
“I Get Paid in Hugs.”
The pandemic slowed down placements, but The Victory Lap is ramping up again. For Rosemary, it’s a labor of love. “I get paid in hugs,” she giggles. “I don’t have kids of my own, so this is how I make my mark on the world.”
The Victory Lap offers a win-win-win proposition for everyone involved. For the operator, in a very tight labor market, they get workers living on-site. For the participant, they get valuable work and life experience and a built-in support system. And, the seniors have an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of vulnerable young people. “Our seniors only have a few laps around the sun left, so this is their last chance to make their own mark on the world. That’s why I call it The Victory Lap.”
Hats off to Rosemary and The Victory Lap. Also to the folks at WelcomeHome CRM for letting us tell her story.