HIGHLANDS RANCH, CO (March 1, 2016) -- Charitable giving in the United States hit a record high in 2014, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. Americans gave $358.38 billion that year—a 7.1% increase over 2013. Additionally, 2014 marked the fifth year in a row that giving increased.
It's no surprise, then, that Wind Crest, the Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, CO., recently hired a philanthropy coordinator to support its very generous residents and staff.
Karla Norvell joined Wind Crest with more than two decades of experience in fundraising database management and nonprofits. She previously worked for Rocky Mountain PBS, Central City Opera, and Children's Hospital Colorado Foundation, among other local nonprofit organizations.
Due to the giving nature of Wind Crest's residents and staff, "They needed someone who was experienced in fundraising and database management," says Norvell.
New to the retirement community industry, she says it's her most fulfilling role yet. "I enjoy working with the residents. It's very collaborative," she says.
In her role, Norvell coordinates raising money for three community funds—the Scholarship Fund, Resident Care Fund, and Staff Appreciation Fund. Additionally, she coordinates Wind Crest's participation in several local fundraisers like the Alzheimer's walk and a food bank walk, among others.
The three main community funds offer residents a chance to give back, make a difference, and show appreciation for those who serve them.
The Scholarship Fund raises money for the high school students who work in Wind Crest's several on-site restaurants. Each spring, around 20 high school seniors qualify to receive a four-year scholarship to use toward education at a university, college, or trade school.
Qualifications include working 1,000 hours at Wind Crest by July of that year, maintaining a 2.0 GPA for their senior year, and remaining in good standing in their job.
In the past, scholarships have been $4,000 for four years, awarded as $500 per semester. However, this year, awardees will receive $6,000 for four years, awarded as $750 per semester.
Students must submit proof of being registered as a full-time student each semester in order to receive their scholarship payment, which is sent directly to the school.
"Philanthropically, the Scholarship Fund is very personal to the residents because the students are serving them every day or night in the restaurants," Norvell says.
The same goes for the Staff Appreciation Fund. "Residents are not allowed to tip, so the funds are a way to give back. It creates a sense of community," she adds.
In 2015, residents and staff raised $118,641 for the Scholarship Fund, $215,624 for the Resident Care Fund, and $201,157 for the Staff Appreciation Fund.
"The Staff Appreciation Fund is very beneficial for our employees. We help make their Christmas a little better," says philanthropy committee member Jerry Nelson. "We made way over our goal this past year."
According to Erickson Living Director of Operations Jeff Watson, giving is "part of what makes for a happy, constructive, enjoyed culture, which is why our residents enjoy living on our campuses so much."
Jerry agrees. "The fact that we reach our goals—and surpass them—shows that people want to get involved," he says. "Giving back to people who support us makes people feel good, and it's gratifying to see that we meet our goals."
Jerry, who has lived at Wind Crest for nearly four years with his wife Martha, says the giving nature of its residents makes it a great place to live. "There's a long list of people who want to move here, so that shows it's a good community," he says.
Jerry says he volunteers on the philanthropy committee and donates money because he is able and it helps make Wind Crest a caring, enjoyable community. "It's a benefit to where we live," he says.
Aside from donating money, many residents choose to donate their time.
Watson theorizes that, based on statistics from across Erickson Living communities, as people age they become more interested in making a difference and more likely to volunteer. By providing so many various volunteer opportunities, Erickson Living communities like Wind Crest fulfill a need for retirees.
In fact, Watson says, "Clearly, one of the things market intelligence finds is that people who are nearing retirement age find opportunities to volunteer important."
For about 25% of her role, Norvell assists residents with their volunteer activities. However, she is quick to point out that "Our volunteers coordinate all of their activities themselves since we are such a young community. They decide the goal and the logistics of an activity or volunteer group."
The community has more than 100 groups. And they are all organized and managed by residents.
"It makes Wind Crest feel like a home, a community. It's like a little town," Norvell says. "Being involved makes the community richer for the people who live here because they're doing something they enjoy and meeting people with similar interests."
People volunteer in any number of interest groups—from religious organizations to choral groups to arts and crafts groups to the on-site woodshop.
Ken and Karen Pinkham say Wind Crest's numerous activities appealed to them when they were considering retirement communities. "The opportunities are really widespread so it appeals to everybody. Plus, it gives us that luxury of choosing what's really important to us."
They both volunteer on the Resident Advisory Council—Ken on the communications committee and Karen on resident life.
Ken started a band. And they both participate in myriad other activities like continuing education courses and yoga.
"You should move in when you're younger so you can participate in all the activities. We've always wanted to play bridge, so we started new groups here in this neighborhood," Karen says.
So it seems at Wind Crest, volunteering takes on a new form—simply doing what you want, and in doing so, you're creating opportunities for others to participate and enjoy life.