Celebrating the Opening of Woodland Park – Part II

Dr. Bill Thomas speaks at the Sunday dedication of Woodland Park.

Dr. Bill Thomas speaks at the Sunday dedication of Woodland Park.

Several years ago, when Jody G. started working at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), she watched a video about the Green House Homes that were to be built. Immediately she fell in love with the concepts and wanted to become a shahbaz, the name for each person who works in the home.

I knew right then that I wanted to go to work in a Green House with its atmosphere conducive to building relationships and where the residents would have a say in what happens each day,” she said. “I couldn’t wait until the houses were built.”

The second celebration at VMRC was a day to thank collaborators — attending from near and far — people who worked together to bring the new Green House Homes to life. According to CEO Ron Yoder, the entire process took nine years and two months of hard work — dreaming, envisioning, planning, designing, and building three houses. The plan is to build a total of ten houses, each with living space for ten residents. Check out the many pictures on this blog or check out the pictures of the inside of the Woodland Park homes at the VMRC website.

My parents at the grand opening. Photo courtesy of VMRC

My parents at the grand opening. Photo courtesy of VMRC

Sunday’s speakers included representatives from the Mennonite Health Services Alliance and the Virginia Association of Nonprofit Homes for Aging, and both groups will probably arrange to bring members to visit and learn more about Woodland Park. Susan Frazier, the CEO of NCB Capital Impact, a nonprofit that partners with organizations to improve elder care, shared some Green House Homes facts (see below). Thanks were offered to the architects and interior designers who created the beautiful spaces and made them look like real homes, and extra special recognition was given to VMRC staff members like Jody G., who will work in the homes as shahbazim — sharing, working, and caring for the residents in each house.

The final speaker, Dr. Bill Thomas, is the creator and inventor of the Green House Homes movement. He reminded us that his goal is to change the way we view aging and transform the nursing home model in a new direction that encourages the independence of elders in a non-institutional setting. Dr. Thomas believes that Green House Homes, like those at Woodland Park, each create small family like, intentional communities and assure that our oldest and frailest elders maintain some control of their lives. Read more about his ideas in What Are Old People For?.

Dr. Bill Thomas visits with  my mom and me.

Dr. Bill Thomas visits with my mom and me.

The doorbell and big hand-crafted dining table, Dr. Thomas reminded us, are metaphors for the high quality lives residents will lead in their new homes. To get into each house a visitor will ring a doorbell and be invited in, just like in any other home. And as much as possible, everyone will take meals at the big table together, as well as make suggestions about what they eat (though they can also fix themselves a snack). Food prepared in one house may be different from what’s prepared at the other two. The model, Dr. Thomas explained, is more about the needs of the elder and less about efficiency and the needs of the organization. The environment empowers elders, even when they are frail, to make many decisions about the way they live.

Interesting Green House Facts

  • Virginia is the 23rd state (actually Virginia is a commonwealth) to have Green House Homes that serve elders.
  • Thirty-three organizations have now opened Green House Homes.
  • A total of 144 homes are operating.
  • VMRC plans to open a total of ten homes.

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