Life Plan Communities come in a variety of sizes, pricepoints, financial models, and management models.  One thing that sets Immanuel Lutheran Communities apart from many of our peers is that we are a nonprofit.  A whitepaper from the industry organization LeadingAge notes, “Many aging services nonprofits trace their histories back 5-10 decades or more.  Many were founded when a person or small group of people saw a need and mobilized to meet that need…  These volunteers reached out proactively, often taking significant risks or leaps of faith, then created enough structure around the effort (often through faith communities or fraternal organizations) to assure continuation beyond meeting the immediate need or the short-term enthusiasm of individuals.”

When I read this statement, I felt like I was reading a description of Immanuel.  We’ve been here at the top of Buffalo Hill in Kalispell since 1957.  The organization was started when, a few years before that, a small, dedicated group of volunteers realized just how few options there were for seniors in the Flathead Valley to get the care they needed as they aged.  They got together, formed a nonprofit, and built the “Lutheran Home”—the building that is now the Immanuel Skilled Care Center.  As the organization’s original name indicates, most of them knew each other from church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America continues as the sponsoring organization for Immanuel.

I think a lot about what makes us, as a nonprofit, different from for-profit communities in the same industry.  To be fair, we don’t have a ton of competition in Montana (at the moment, we’re one of very few full-service Life Plan Communities in the state).  But I think it’s still good to have an idea of what sets us apart.  After all, residents at all Life Plan Communities pay for the services they receive, and surely staff at all communities care for the residents.  In the end, what difference does it make whether the organization exists to turn a profit?

Here’s what I think: Because we aren’t trying to make much money over and above our operating expenses, we have the luxury of focusing on people and their needs.  When we need more resources to strengthen our organization, we can turn to philanthropy instead of simply increasing prices or limiting staff wages.  That’s largely why we have a foundation!  We also exist solely to meet a need in our community.  While we of course need to be financially solvent, we have the luxury of putting the needs of our aging neighbors ahead of any organizational need to turn a profit.

That means that when we’re considering what new services to add, we study the market less with the intent of figuring out what will yield the highest financial return but with the intent of discovering what will most benefit the people around us.  With the Villas project and the recent Retreat expansion, we responded to needs for additional independent living apartments and short-term rehabilitation rooms.  As we look to the future, we see needs for Medicaid-eligible dementia care, which by definition produces less revenue than almost anything else we could build.  We want to build it because we care about seniors, including those with less ability to pay.

As a Foundation supporter, you play a critical role in our nonprofit success.  Thank you for your interest in Immanuel—we wouldn’t be where we are without people like you.

Every year, Buffalo Hill Terrace hosts a big end-of-summer party.  This event marks the end of our annual concert series and brings the community together for one last hurrah in the outdoors before the Montana winter takes hold.  This year’s event on Saturday, September 15 featured local Western band Barnyard Riot.  The Cajun menu, planned and prepared by our fabulous chef Andrew Nelson and his stellar team, included everything from homemade hush puppies (my personal favorite!) to alligator legs (no, they were not chicken).

The courtyard was full of residents, family members, and friends of Immanuel Lutheran Communities enjoying each other and the beautiful weather.  Hannah Brown and the Recreation team used checked table cloths and tin pales of flower arrangements to lend a casual but special and festive air to the space.  Guests chatted, ate, listened to music, and admired the flower beds that are still thriving in the main courtyard even as fall approaches.  All in all, it was a wonderful atmosphere.  The Buffalo Hill Terrace team showed once again how well they work together to produce events the entire Flathead Valley community can enjoy.

I was also struck by how philanthropic our community is.  As you may know, we’ve been raising money for altar furnishings and stained glass for our new chapel.  Thanks to a recent generous donation and a grant from the William and Blanche Hetzel Foundation, we are well on our way toward meeting our $30,000 goal.  We were also the recipients of a quilt, handmade and donated by Charmaine Stappler, which we raffled off.  Saturday’s concert marked the end of ticket sales.  On this last day alone, we raised $550 from the quilt raffle.  All told, the raffle raised $1,435 for the altar and stained glass and helped move us that much closer to our goal.  We drew the winner on Saturday, as well, and the lucky Cheryl Luke now owns this beautiful quilt.  Thank you so much to Charmaine and all who bought tickets!  The generosity of people like you helps our community grow and thrive!

While we’re well on our way to creating a sacred space in our new auditorium, we’re not there yet.  Right now, we’re about $13,000 short of our goal.  If you’d like to help, contact the Foundation office or click the link below and designate your gift to the Altar or Stained Glass fund.  Like the residents and family members present at the concert, our donors are critical parts of our Immanuel community.  We truly appreciate all you share with us, and we hope to see you (again!) next time our community comes together.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Clyde Pederson, the first of many Passions Project participants you’ll be meeting over the coming months.  Clyde’s passion is woodcarving.  If you look around the Buffalo Hill Terrace apartment he shares with his wife, Jeanine, you’ll see everything from bark houses like the one pictured above to whimsical carvings of mucus (yes, mucus).

When I asked him what he likes best about wood carving, Clyde replied, “It’s a good hobby because it’s portable…  You can carve any place you can sit.”  The number of carvings in the apartment alone suggests that he sat and carved in a lot of different places.  Jeanine would certainly say this is the case, though he most often carved in their home.  “His passion was woodcarving,” she recalled, “and my job was vacuuming up wood shavings!”

Clyde began carving when he was in high school.  He still has his first carvings, a tiny ball in a box and an interlocking chain.  But he had a lot more time to carve after he retired from his work as a farmer.  When he and Jeanine were camped at an RV park, they came across a fellow camper who was carving small boots.  Clyde was inspired to take up his own knife and chisel, and a passion was born. Also, he had lost the sight in his right eye and had reduced depth perception, so when he was considering a hobby to pursue in his retirement, carving seemed safer than the kind of woodworking done with power tools.

Clyde never took a class in woodcarving.  Instead, he used books.  He even learned the intricate art of bark carving from a book.  However, it’s sometimes difficult to use pictures as precise examples, especially with bark.  He emphasized this when he taught bark carving during his and Jeanine’s winter stints in Arizona.  Sometimes, he said, it was hard to explain to his students that carving isn’t just about replicating what you see in front of you.  “You can’t duplicate a [bark] carving because the bark dictates what you can do,” Clyde told us during his photo session.  “You have to be creative.”

Clyde certainly is creative!  He took his inspiration from everything in the world around him and from the wood in front of him.  Local wildlife has inspired carvings of deer, elk, and bears, while pharmaceutical commercials have inspired more whimsical pieces like toenail fungus and, yes, mucus.  Clyde carved what he saw in the wood.

Sometimes, Clyde bought the wood he used in his carvings.  His favorite wood was basswood.  It’s soft, fine-grained, and white, which makes it versatile and easy to carve. He also used material he found locally, especially when carving bark.  The banks of the Flathead River provided a lot of trees with good bark.  For bark carving, Clyde explained, you need a tree that’s been dead for long enough that the bark is loose.  It’s also important that it be thick enough to hold together when carved but not so thick that you have to cut too much away.  Some of his carvings were even inspired by found objects or trash.  He’s made a series of ducks out of old wooden golf clubs—showing that one man’s trash is indeed another’s treasure!

Clyde isn’t able to carve much anymore (a hand tremor makes it unsafe), but he still talks about it with great pride, and it’s clear he’s passionate about it.  When he put on his protective gear and picked up his tools for the photo, it was like he’d never put them down.  Clyde’s carvings are unique and special, and it was a pleasure to learn more about them—and him!

When Megan Krupp moved with her family to the Flathead Valley in 2016, she had her sights set on a nursing career.  She had been staying home with her three children, but family circumstances meant she needed to go back to work, so she knew she needed a job that would make going back to school as easy as possible.  Nursing was a natural fit; she loves helping people and forming relationships.  A spot in Immanuel’s in-house CNA class seemed like the perfect way to get started on her new dream.

Megan is very grateful that Immanuel’s class was available.  Because it took only three weeks, “it was fast and furious,” and it got her “back in the swing of school.”  Since she didn’t have to pay for the class, it also “made life easier” for her and her family.  As soon as she achieved her certification, Megan began working as a CNA at Immanuel.  She describes her job as “hard work, but rewarding.”

After achieving her CNA credential, Megan immediately began working toward a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree, which she achieved in the summer of 2018.  In fact, I spoke with Megan on the day after she passed her last final—with one more A in a whole series of high grades.  Immanuel helped Megan achieve this goal, too; she received money from the Employee Education Fund every semester as she pursued her license.  And she’s a great example of why we offer this benefit to employees.  Megan plans to use her credential right here, to benefit Immanuel’s residents.  She’ll continue to do that when she achieves her Registered Nurse (RN) credential in the future (she’s already hard at work on the coursework she needs to get it!).

For Megan, Immanuel’s CNA class really was the first step toward a career in geriatric nursing.  She had been a CNA when she was eighteen, and she’s spent a lot of time volunteering.  She wanted a career where she could make a difference in people’s lives.  Megan has come to love the personal connections she’s able to make with residents she sees every day.  She particularly loves hearing their stories and describes her experience as humbling.  Our everyday challenges and struggles are “just a little piece of the whole life spectrum,” she remarks.  Because residents tend to stay in long-term care for some time, the connections she makes with them are much deeper and longer term than those she could make in a medical office.  She loves “being part of their lives instead of a 10-minute segment twice a year.”

During our conversation, Megan mentioned several times how grateful she is for the opportunities Immanuel has offered her.  Her experience has been so positive that leaving for another job is “not even an option.”  “I just like working here,” she told me at the end of the conversation.  Immanuel is grateful for Megan, too, and delighted that she has chosen Immanuel Lutheran Communities as the place where she will grow into her nursing career.