When it comes to continuing care retirement communities, Ralph and Loni Smith know more than most people.
As the authors of Worry-Free Retirement Living: Choosing a Full-Service Retirement Community, Ralph and Loni traversed the country for six years, visiting hundreds of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), as they pulled together research for their comprehensive guide.
When the couple made their own move to a CCRC in 2016, they chose Eagle's Trace, the Erickson Living community in West Houston.
"We moved from Virginia to Houston because we wanted a warmer climate and easy access to great medical care," says Ralph. "We were also drawn by the friendly staff and residents at Eagle's Trace and the onsite options for staying active."
Now, nearly two years after their move, Ralph and Loni are finding ways to make their own impact on the community, enriching their lives and others' in the process.
Making his mark
In the fall of 2017, Ralph was appointed chairman of the Treasure Chest, an on-site resale shop that sells donated items and pours the profits right back into the community. More than 50 residents volunteer in the Treasure Chest, accepting donations, pricing items, and working the register.
"It's a symbiotic relationship," says Ralph. "When people move to a CCRC, they typically bring more than they need. They can donate those items to the Treasure Chest. The proceeds support the Resident Care Fund, the Student Scholar Fund, and many of the resident groups on campus."
For instance, resident woodworkers often assist the Treasure Chest by repairing damaged furniture in the community's woodshop.
"The Treasure Chest donates money to the woodshop to help offset the cost of tools and materials," says Ralph. "We're all working together for the good of the community."
Ralph is also using another of his talents—ballroom dancing—to teach a new class on campus.
"As a young man in Kansas City, Mo., I was looking for a side job I could do in the evenings," says Ralph. "I walked in the Gene Kelly Dance Studio and asked if I could help with cleaning or other odds and ends. I ended up learning the dance steps and becoming a teacher."
Every Tuesday afternoon at Eagle's Trace, Ralph puts his moves to good use, teaching ballroom dancing to interested neighbors.
"So far, we've learned the fox trot, rumba, swing, and cha cha," he says. "My goal is not just to teach them to dance, it's to make them look good doing it."
Doing what she loves
Meanwhile, Loni has seen one phase of her professional career take off since moving to Eagle's Trace.
Prior to the move, Loni, who's an attorney, taught business law and business management at Northern Virginia Community College. She also wrote The Needlepoint Book under the pen name Jo Ippolito Christensen, which has been in print since 1976 and sold more than 450,000 copies.
"I had trouble with my eyes and couldn't work on my needlepoint for several years," says Loni. "After a successful cornea transplant, I'm back at it and doing more than ever before."
Loni recently gave a needlepoint demonstration to the newly formed Culture Club at Eagle's Trace. She's also accepted offers to teach needlepoint in different cities around the country, invitations that are easy to accept thanks to their lock-it-and-leave-it lifestyle at Eagle's Trace.
"Headed into the move, we knew that our experience at a CCRC was going to depend partly on what we made of it," says Ralph. "When you take advantage of the worry-free lifestyle and the amenities just outside your door, it creates the opportunity for a rich, fulfilling life."