Pilgrim Place Celebrates the Last Century, Anticipates the Next

A centennial is a good time to commemorate an organization’s history. But Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California, is not only celebrating its achievements but also planning for its next 100 years.

Pilgrim Place began as Claremont Missionary Home, incorporated on Jan. 8, 1915, as a place where Congregational Church missionaries could stay between assignments. The home evolved into Pilgrim Place in 1924 and is now a community for 350 retired missionaries, clergy, and social activists.

“People come to Pilgrim Place to continue their lifelong service,” says Dr. Joe Hough, a community resident. The centennial celebrates that, says Hough, who chaired the centennial planning committee.

The committee wanted to weave a tapestry of events that reflects what Pilgrim Place is as a community, says Joyce Yarborough, vice president for advancement. Through these activities, we express who we are, the values we stand for and the common concerns we raise for a better future,” she says.

The result was a calendar of activities for residents and the public, beginning with a Jan. 8 prayer service and including concerts, festivals, a barbecue, religious services, lectures and speakers such as LeadingAge CEO Larry Minnix, former U.S. ambassador James Joseph, and journalist Bill Moyers.

But the Pilgrim Place centennial observance is not just about celebration, says Bill Cunitz, the community’s president and CEO.

“As much as I want to look back at our 100 years, I think the centennial is a great time to look forward,” says Cunitz. “Look forward, and based on our history and traditions, ask how are we going to turn those into exciting and new opportunities to serve? In light of the changing environment in which we live, senior living organizations that just stay as they are, and just celebrate the past are doomed.”

Looking forward means updating campus buildings to serve a wider community, improving landscaping to be more drought tolerant, adding monitoring technology in skilled nursing areas for resident safety, and funding the Napier Initiative, in which residents mentor area college students focusing on justice and equality.

These initiatives will be funded by a $4 million centennial campaign called Journey Forward. Launched in February 2014, with the public phase launched Jan. 8, 2015, the campaign has raised $3.8 million so far, well ahead of schedule to meet its end-of-year goal. Construction projects are scheduled to begin in 2016.

“Throughout it all, I’m hoping we can have an opportunity to look forward to how this community can continue to reinvent itself and stay relevant to meet the needs of people,” says Cunitz.

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