United Church Homes’ ‘I LIVE IT’ Program Focuses on Hospitality, Culture Change

What’s the “word of the week”? At United Church Homes, a senior housing and healthcare provider headquartered in Marion, Ohio, it might be “home,” or “community,” or “wise-beyond-years,” or “neighbors.” These words are among those replacing the tired, traditional, institutional parlance of the health care profession: hospital, facility, sickly, unit.

These “culture change words,” according to Amy Kotterman, United Church Homes’ director of hospitality, are just the surface of a radical new way the UCC-related ministry is developing its hospitality program, and the change is already reaping benefits.

“I LIVE IT” is the acronym for the new program, which stands for I Listen, I Inspire, I Value, and I Empower, and its goal is to assist staff in all settings of the ministry –– from housing and healthcare communities to the main staff offices –– to exercise servant leadership and improve the lives of those in their care.

Fundamental to the new hospitality program are the six core values of United Church Homes: Compassion, hospitality, respect, integrity, stewardship, and transparency. All are incorporated via “I” statements into the basic tenets of the I LIVE IT program.

“We began with the idea of how best to provide hospitality training that would help bring abundant life to our residents,” says Kotterman. “I” statements were intentionally developed, she adds, because “we want our staff to ‘live it’ and ‘take ownership’ of it. Each of us has the ability to provide hospitality to all we serve every day.”

The training program, which all staff across the organization will attend, covers interaction with residents and guests, from greeting others to using facial expressions, body language and vocal tone. Active listening with attentive responses and teamwork also are part of the training modules.

“Hospitality covers every conceivable interaction, in every setting, from the parking lot to public restrooms,” Kotterman adds, “so the training is focused on emphasizing the principles to guide how to respond in specific situations.”

Additional topics include the nuts and bolts of welcoming, phone etiquette, directions, cleanliness, safety, parking, and signage, but also discussion and education about culture change and culture change words. That’s where the “word of the week” comes in.

As Kotterman explains in her training sessions, changing the words used to describe a common situation can have a powerful impact on how others respond or feel. New words of the week, along with articles about culture change words in United Church Homes’ Spirit magazine, help foster a sense of ownership and community.

The culture change vocabulary is being introduced on social media, says Kotterman, “and it is displayed on the monitor in the lobby of our corporate office. Our goal is to educate residents, families, staff, volunteers and guests on culture change, person-directed care, and how this aligns with our vision, mission, and core values to create and provide Abundant Life for those we serve.”

The success of the new program will be measured through satisfaction surveys and other methods of feedback. But initial results are promising. The new language is being shared with residents during conversations, and has already led to a better understanding of how the residents perceive and interpret the words –– both the old, institutional words and the new culture change words. Kotterman calls their responses “amazing and very powerful.”

As a fitting visual, I LIVE IT has adapted the renowned “LOVE” sculpture iconography as a visual reminder of the program. Kotterman says it works because it’s out of that original idea that the new hospitality program was born.

“From LOVE,” says Kotterman, “comes United Church Homes’ hospitality program, I LIVE IT.”

United Church Homes was founded in 1916. Today, it serves more than 4,500 seniors in 69 communities in 14 states and two Native American reservations, and welcomes persons of all faiths.

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