When Cleveland’s Deaconess Foundation was looking for a strong partner to take over management of its affordable senior housing communities, the foundation’s leadership wanted to make sure the communities would be well cared for and would remain part of the United Church of Christ.
Deaconess, formed from the 1994 sale of Deaconess Hospital, has a long connection to the UCC and to Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood, where it maintained a significant ministry presence for nearly 100 years.
But after concerted strategic planning led the grant-making organization to embrace a more-focused mission that supports helping people in poverty to prepare for, obtain and keep employment, Deaconess had to face the hard reality that operating three affordable senior housing communities didn’t necessarily fit into their newfound organizational purpose.
So Deaconess turned to CHHSM-member Retirement Housing Foundation, one of the nation’s largest operators and advocates of affordable housing, headquartered in Long Beach, California, and founded by two UCC clergy and a lay leader in 1961. Deaconess gifted to RHF two properties in Cleveland, the 101-unit Deaconess-Kraft Center and the adjacent 70-unit Deaconess-Zane Center, along with the 64-unit Deaconess-Perry Center in nearby North Royalton, Ohio.
“One of the big things that attracted us to RHF was their reputation,” said Deborah Vesy, president and CEO of Deaconess. “They are known in the affordable housing community nationally as a top leader, as [demonstrating] excellence in affordable housing. But what was most important was their values system. RHF is an organization that is rooted in the United Church of Christ, as is our foundation. It was important to me and the board that we make sure that, whoever took over these buildings would care about and have the same values as us, that they treated their residents as family members.”
Speaking at a June 15 celebration marking the transition in ownership, the Rev. Laverne R. Joseph, RHF’s president and CEO, explained RHF’s logo, pointing out the series of open-door houses arranged in the shape of a cross.
“We are faith based,” Joseph said. “We are part of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, and though we are part of the United Church of Christ, we serve everyone, regardless of creed, color, religion, anything. We are here to accommodate you.”
Joseph emphasized that RHF was committed to more than just assuming management of Deaconess’ properties, but RHF intends to fully embrace the Deaconess heritage of faith-based care and service as central to the on-going identities of these retirement communities. All of the facilities’ employees were welcomed into RHF’s employment system, honoring their years of service to Deaconess as equivalent to years of service to RHF.
One of those employees, RHF’s new Great Lakes Regional Manager Steven Shroka, just completed 25 years working for Deaconess. “I received my 25-year RHF service pin at my very first RHF staff meeting,” he quipped, as evidence of RHF’s sincerity.
Michael J. Readinger, CHHSM’s president and CEO, said that often in the world of health and human services, especially affordable housing, it’s important to know you are part of a larger movement.
“It’s an honor for these communities to be part of a strong corporation like RHF, that does affordable housing so beautifully,” Readinger said. “It offers stability, and it provides the faith-based values that are important to so many people, to be part of a larger passion-driven movement of health and human service ministries nationwide.”
Faith-based partnerships, like the one demonstrated by Deaconess and RHF, are one of the benefits of CHHSM membership, Readinger said, because they emerge out of the deep relationships that are formed through sharing in health and human service ministries as a UCC family. Fortunately, he said, Deaconess and RHF are not an isolated example.
Pilgrim Manor, an assisted-living community with skilled nursing care in Grand Rapids, Mich., also announced in June that it is integrating into United Church Homes, a national senior services provider based in Marion, Ohio. Both are longtime CHHSM-member ministries.
When fully implemented by October, the addition of Pilgrim Manor will increase United Church Homes’ service area to 14 states and 2 Native American reservations. Founded in 1916, United Church Homes now serves more than 4,000 residents in 69 senior housing and healthcare communities. It has approximately 1300 employees.
As the Rev. Kenneth Daniel, president and CEO of United Church Homes, pointed out, “Both organizations benefit from their shared missions, values and affiliation with the United Church of Christ.”
Micki Benz, chair of Pilgrim Manor’s board of directors, agreed. “Pilgrim Manor, and especially our residents, will benefit from being affiliated with a larger organization that shares our values and will support us as we grow our programs and significantly improve our facilities.”
“Sometimes the knowledge, technical support and capital resources we need to sustain the quality of our ministries can be found right here, among our own UCC networks,” Readinger said. “We never need to feel like we’re on islands of our own making. We are better and stronger when we look to one another.”