It's been 20 years since Cheryl Whittier began working at Brooksby Village, the Erickson Living-managed community in Peabody, Mass.
"My first day at Brooksby was March 22, 2000," says Whittier, who's held multiple positions over the course of her career at the Peabody community, most recently in resident life as a community resources coordinator.
Brooksby Village celebrates its 20th anniversary this June, with festivities planned to honor the community's two decades of vibrant senior living on the North Shore.
Whittier is one of nine employees who've worked at Brooksby since it opened. She was working for the City of Peabody in the Health and Veterans department when she first heard mention of a possible senior living community coming to the area.
"Peter Torigian was the Mayor of Peabody at the time," says Whittier. "He and 24 department heads from the city flew to Baltimore to visit Charlestown, one of Erickson's earlier campuses. They were impressed with the concept, and soon, it was a done deal."
Erickson purchased a 90-acre parcel on the former Innis Sand and Gravel site with plans to develop it into a sprawling campus offering amenities, activities, and social opportunities to seniors. Today, Brooksby Village is home to more than 1,800 residents and employs over 900 staff members.
"I realized this might be a good career opportunity, so I applied for the position of customer service manager," says Whittier. "I was the first manager hired at the community, and we worked out of trailers as the buildings were under construction."
In her office, Whittier still has the hard hat she wore in those early days.
"Town Centre was the first clubhouse built, and it was hard to imagine back then what it would look like once it opened and people started moving in," says Whittier. "Now, it's incredible to see how Brooksby has grown and become home to so many people. It's truly a community."
More than a job
As customer service manager, Whittier oversaw the front desk and the general services office. She was promoted to facilities manager, adding transportation to her scope of responsibility.
Whittier then moved over to the resident life department, working as the philanthropy manager before assuming the role of community resources coordinator, where she relishes the daily interaction with residents.
Her office is located in the Kingsbury Clubhouse, one of three clubhouses on campus. Whittier partners with fellow Community Resources Coordinators Kaitlin Florance and Barbara Lee to plan all on-campus activities and help facilitate the community's more than 100 resident-led clubs and activities.
"As much as I can make residents smile through activities and social opportunities, they make me smile every day," says Whittier. "It's those relationships that make us a strong community."
Brooksby's reputation for a vibrant, maintenance-free lifestyle continues to set it apart in the senior living landscape. The community enters 2020 with unprecedented lows in unreserved inventory.
"I've seen neighbors from Peabody move to Brooksby and thrive," says Whittier, who not only enjoys a long history with Brooksby Village but with the City of Peabody itself.
Whittier moved to Peabody when she was five and attended West Memorial Elementary, John F. Kennedy Junior High, and Peabody High School. She raised her family in Peabody and knows well the fabric of the city. In 2018, Whittier's family donated a 30-year-old blue spruce that had grown in their front yard to serve as the city's Christmas tree.
Four years ago, Whittier partnered with the community's trips coordinator to offer a onetime tour of Peabody.
"Since I know the area, we thought it would be fun to offer a tour of Peabody for residents who might have moved to Brooksby from out of state and might not be familiar with the city," says Whittier.
The first tour filled up and had a waiting list, so Whittier planned a second one. The response continued to be overwhelming, drawing not only residents who'd moved from out of state, but Mass. residents eager to learn more and enjoy Whittier's lively narrative of Peabody's history.
Whittier's tour of Peabody continues to be one of the most popular offerings on the trips calendar. She offers the one-and-a-half-hour tour aboard a Brooksby shuttle every month from February through November. She points out local landmarks like George Peabody's birthplace, the Peabody Leatherworkers Museum, and the Felton-Smith Historic Site. She includes Jeopardy-worthy tidbits, including the fact that Brooksby derived its name from the many brooks that ran through the formerly agricultural region.
"I do the tour because residents love it," says Whittier. "There's a great history here that's brought us to where we are today."