Benjamin Franklin once commented, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” These sage words, uttered over 200 years ago, continue to serve as a great motivator.
At Riderwood, an Erickson Senior Living developed and managed community in Silver Spring, MD, residents and staff, working collaboratively, devised a creative way to ensure community members properly planned for the future.
In the summer of 2019, resident and continuing education committee member Mina Wuchenich and Resident Services Manager Ellen Lebedow devised Caring Connections, a comprehensive life-planning initiative designed to help Riderwood residents navigate a myriad of medical, legal, and financial decisions associated with aging.
Since that time, more than 60 community members engaged in the 12- week course featuring local experts and the most up-to-date information available.
“To date, we’ve offered the course four times,” says Mina. “We anticipate our next course will be offered this fall.”
Almost immediately after the first class, community members were shouting its praises. “I had several friends who had taken the class and they had nothing but rave reviews,” says community member Sulocha Fernandopulle. “I thought, ‘I have to get into this class.’” The course is open to everyone at Riderwood and the class typically fills within minutes of opening registration.
Answering important questions
“Caring Connections educates residents on the many different transitions and decisions in aging, all
in advance of need,” says Ellen. “The course also expands Riderwood’s culture as a learning community.” Caring Connections provides tools for residents and their families to make informed decisions regarding future issues.
Starting with special events
The program begins with a variety of special events, open to the entire Riderwood community, for an in-depth examination on one of the primary focus areas.
“Family members are also encouraged to attend these events,” says Mina. “They can either access our Vimeo [online video link] or watch on Riderwood TV.” Second, the heart of the program, Navigating as We Age: Changes and Choices, is a 12-week course designed to integrate all areas of decision making for a small group of 20 residents.
“Integrating all focus areas helps us provide the full picture,” says Mina. “The course addresses issues, ahead of need, with the guidance of expert speakers including Riderwood staff and outside professionals. Armed with this knowledge, participants are able to develop their own personal roadmap. We also teach that, as life occurs, the personal roadmap completed during the course can be updated to meet new circumstances.”
Covering all the bases
Riderwood community member Ed Vilade signed up for the course after writing about it for the resident newspaper Riderwood Reporter.
“My wife and I came in thinking we had all the bases covered,” he says. “But the more we learned, the more we discovered we did not. Issues came up that we were unaware of. For example, we were not familiar with eldercare attorneys or some of the resources available at Riderwood. We had the surface covered, but there is so much more.”
Sulocha agrees. “Before we moved to Riderwood I thought we had done everything we could,” she says. “After taking this class I learned there is so much more. We completed all our paperwork, I didn’t know that you should go back every four or five years and revisit, especially if your circumstances have changed. She continues, “We also learned how important it is to relay your decisions to the people who will implement them. As a result of Caring Connections, we discovered all the rich resources available here at Riderwood. Mina and Ellen have done an excellent job educating us and helping us learn what we need to do for our future and our children.”
As support after the completion of the course, Caring Connections maintains two libraries of information for follow-up study and independent research. Class participants may either visit the Riderwood campus library or visit online at www. riderwoodlife.org. In addition, a Caring Connections listserve notifies interested residents of upcoming events, courses, and other matters of interest.
“We have an active committee of residents working on this resident-run effort,” says Mina. “And we couldn’t have done it all without the experience and wisdom of Riderwood staff, especially Ellen.”
Riderwood residents are grateful for these efforts and the hard work and dedication of Caring Connections co-chairs Mina and Ellen. “The most important thing I learned was that with preparation comes peace of mind,” says Ed. “I feel a lot more comfortable having prepared as a result of this class.”
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