‘In Their Own Words’ — a Labor of Love for UCC’s Retirement Housing Foundation that Keeps Giving
“I now have a home, not just an apartment.”
Corrella’s reflections comprise one of many offered by residents, volunteers and staff from RHF communities across the country in the publication In Their Own Words. Though published in 2010 for RHF’s 50th anniversary, it continues to be a well-used resource. For example, when the Rev. Laverne R. Joseph, RHF’s president, recently testified on Capitol Hill about affordable housing, he brought the book with him.
“The resident stories from [Congressional members’] districts had the biggest impact,” Joseph says.
In Their Own Words grew out of an idea begun a decade earlier, when RHF published a book about residents’ lives before they moved into a Retirement Housing Foundation community.
“I thought it would be great to have residents talk about the impact living in an RHF community had made on their lives,” says Chris Ragon, vice president of communications. “That is why I also included in this publication stories from our volunteers and staff. I thought it was important for people to see that RHF isn’t just a job for a large number of our team members — that it is like a calling for many of them.”
Team members like Linda Grigsby of Redding Pilgrim House in California. “The RHF mission is the reason that I get up in the morning,” Grigsby says. “I could not have asked for a better opportunity to serve the God that I love than the RHF mission. … It is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my lifetime.”
Since 2010, In Their Own Words has become a go-to for staff trying to explain the importance of their communities to others. “My senior director of acquisitions tells me he brings it with him when he is meeting with a group or individual who is thinking about selling their property or existing community to us,” says Ragon. “He feels it speaks better to RHF’s philosophy of what we do than anything he could ever say. He says that it has impressed a number of people/organizations who were considering partnering with us on a project.”
Joseph says he regards the book as almost being a daily devotional, because you can read a story a day and get inspired by it.
Heartfelt and Honest Life Stories
When asked to participate, RHF residents responded in thoughtful, often poignant ways. Liz Cocks, who was told she had months to live from terminal cancer, arrived at Bishop’s Glen in Holly Hill, Fla., to die, says Ragon. She not only survived longer than expected, but lived another full, rich 10 years.
In her reflections, Cocks wrote, “I moved to Bishop’s Glen for the few months I had left. What a change that made in me and my health! I am able to go outside, walk the beautiful grounds, have a well-balanced meal in the beautiful dining room … and overnight, I had an extended family that cared. I became active again, and before long, I was as active as I was in my 70s!”
For Lily Ann Johnsen, who lived at 300 Main in Estacada, Ore., the community was both a dream come true and a mission fulfilled. In the late 1970s, she had worked to get 300 Main built, and years later, moved in. “There’s so much going on,” she wrote. “You never get lonely.” Johnsen lived at 300 Main for more than 20 years, passing away at age 105.
The stories of the volunteers are equally captivating. Says Donna Cawthon, who volunteers at Ingleside Manor in Macon, Ga., “I love helping people and I love the elderly. My mom worked in a nursing home when I was young, and it was then that I knew I loved spending time with older people … It is a very rewarding feeling to volunteer here at Ingleside Manor. They are now a part of my family.”
Telling the Story of Faith-Based Mission
Over the years, In Their Own Words often has proved to be the conduit that connects RHF staff’s faith-based work to the many people whose lives they touch daily.
“I wanted this publication to be the bridge that kept our mission in front of the thousands of people our organization touches on any given day,” says Ragon. “It is one of the things that I am most proud of that I’ve done while at RHF.”
The overarching theme of the book — faith-based ministry in communities — is evident in all of the entries. As Olga Torres, manager of RHF’s Fajardo Housing for the Elderly in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, says, “I love working with people, and the responsibility that I carry out is like caring for a flower that’s in your garden. My vision is to protect, care, and give the best of myself to make this community a great place. I identify myself with the elderly because they are like flowers that decorate my garden. I really love my job.”
But perhaps Frankie Corrella’s experience says it best:
“I am no longer invisible, useless, or unwanted. I was homeless for nine years. By living in a[n] RHF community, I have been given a second chance. It has enabled me to gain self-worth, self-respect, and acceptance from others. … I now have two families — biological and the RHF community.”
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