At the Immanuel Foundation, we are privileged to work with a wonderful Resident Advisory Committee.  This group, composed of five active, engaged residents of Buffalo Hill Terrace and The Villas, gives us their input on our fundraising strategies and priorities.  They know the “buzz” around the community, and they’re willing to share it.  Since we fundraise for the community, it’s important to us that we understand residents’ priorities.  Our committee members share information about what residents are thinking and what’s important to them, and they’re great ambassadors for the work we do in the Foundation.

Our committee members are also great at helping out with practical tasks.  They’ve helped us stuff mailings, prepare for events, staff tables, and of course they were a huge help at our Estate Sale last May.  They’ve become an integral part of the Immanuel Foundation, and at this point we probably couldn’t do the work we do without them.

Our committee is not the only one at Immanuel.  The Foundation committee is part of a larger system at Buffalo Hill Terrace and the Villas that engages residents with operations.  After all, this community is their home, so they should have a voice in how things are run.  To help make their voices heard, the Buffalo Hill Terrace administration established committees for dining, recreation, finance, and the physical building.  There’s also a group of Resident Ambassadors that helps show new residents around, provides tours for prospective residents, and makes their apartment homes available for viewing.  Representatives from all of these individual committees, as well as the Foundation Committee, come together monthly to share updates and help Carla Wilton, the Buffalo Hill Terrace Executive Director, make decisions that impact residents.

These committees are great for everybody.  They’re great for staff because we get direct impact from residents.  They’re great for residents because they have a voice in how the organization runs.  And they’re great for the organization as a whole because we can be sure we’re responding to the people for whom we exist in the first place.

Like all retirement communities, Buffalo Hill Terrace has a wealth of experience and expertise within its walls.  These committees also give the residents a chance to go on using their talents and skills in a way that benefits their community.  They are retired, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their skills or their interests.  So, residents with finance backgrounds join the finance committee, those with a background or particular interest in food service join the dining committee, etc.  In the Foundation, we benefit from residents on our committee with long histories of volunteering and board service for a wide variety of organizations.

By participating in the governance and oversight of the organization, residents remain engaged with their community and their world.  And Immanuel finds ways to provide even better service that’s tailored to the particular group of people who live here.  Thank you so much to all of the residents who offer their time on the committees—you help keep the community great!

On the door of Shirley Pryor’s room at the Immanuel Skilled Care Center hangs a sign informing visitors that the occupant is an artist.  As soon as you open and step through that door, you see why.  Shirley’s walls hold several of her works, and their variety, skill, and beauty is evident.

Shirley has been an artist for most of her life.  “I just always liked to draw,” she said when we interviewed her before her Passions Project photo session.  This love of drawing grew into a passion for painting as she grew older.  The artwork in her room includes both oils and pastels, and she’s painted in watercolor, as well.  Oils are her favorite, though, because of their vibrant colors and their texture.

Shirley was fortunate in that she was able to support herself and her three children with her art.  She sold dozens of paintings over the course of her working life and, while she taught occasionally, most of her income came from selling her artwork. 

Unfortunately, Shirley is no longer able to paint.  She still enjoys looking around at all the art hanging on her walls, most of which is her own.  Her family, which now includes over a dozen grandchildren and several great-grandchildren as well as her two daughters, one son, and their spouses, also have and enjoy some of her remaining paintings.  Her youngest daughter lives locally, and Shirley feels lucky to get to spend a lot of time with her.

Shirley has painted everything from garden scenes to wildlife.  Her favorite painting she’s ever done is a full-length portrait of her daughter.  It was challenging, she says, but totally worth it.  And it’s not the only large painting she’s completed; once, when she was living in Arizona, she painted a large mural in a public space.  The painting of irises she’s pictured with here is Shirley’s favorite of the pictures she has left.  She’s certainly able to capture the beauty in what she sees!

Every year, Immanuel Lutheran Communities hosts an outdoor concert series for residents, families, and the wider Flathead Valley community.  Everyone is invited to these evening events, and snacks are served.  At the end of the summer, in September, we celebrate with a grand finale featuring a full meal as well as entertainment.

This year, though, something is different.  This year, the concert series is sponsored in part by generous gifts from businesses around the valley.  It’s been a great opportunity to connect or reconnect with these community partners, all of whom want to help our area’s seniors in need.  These gifts will help ensure that Immanuel Lutheran Communities can continue to provide safe homes in vibrant communities for Montana seniors at all income levels.  They’ll supplement the gap between Medicaid payments and the costs of caring for residents in the Skilled Care Center, help us offer memory support day services to families who aren’t able to pay the full fee, and address other needs on campus as they arise.  We are very grateful to these sponsors!

While our sponsors are a great addition to the concert series, little else about this summer tradition has changed.  The concerts are still a great time for an intergenerational community to come together to relax enjoy our beautiful Flathead Valley summer.  For the first concert Wednesday evening, the weather was almost perfect.  It was a little windy, but it wasn’t too hot and the clouds kept the sun from baking the crowd.  Chef Nelson’s nacho bar was a hit, as were the churros his team supplied for dessert.

This week’s concert featured Jack Gladstone, who also kicked off last year’s concert series.  Jack’s unique combination of original music, storytelling, and popular favorites made for an engaging and upbeat evening.  Jack’s music is deeply rooted in Montana and in his Blackfeet heritage.  He tells his own story, and he connects it to the historical world and the wider community.  His performances are well-received in no small part because they’re so connected to a place his audience loves.

This week, that audience included many family members as well as residents.  It’s very common for children and grandchildren to join residents at these events.  They’re nice partly because people of all ages can enjoy them together.  The Immanuel Foundation is delighted to be an integral part of the community that comes together at these concerts.  Thank you so much to our sponsors and to everyone who attended!

On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the United States’ declaration of independence from Great Britain.  Independence is a trait we as Americans continue to value in ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation.

In fact, the possibility of losing independence is one the main reasons why many Americans fear aging.  And as we get older, we’re more likely to be confronted with the possibility that we won’t always be independent.  A 2017 study presented at the Innovations in Aging conference found that a fear of dependency—that is, a fear of being unable to take care of one’s self—was a strong predictor of depression in American older adults.  Even when other factors like the subjects’ health, age, and disability were taken into account, older adults who were afraid of being dependent on others were more likely to be depressed than those who didn’t share this fear.

This is particularly worrying because, whether we like it or not, aging often means we lose some measure of independence.  In fact, some seniors move into communities like Immanuel because they know they can no longer live on their own, whether because of health problems or difficulty with the daily tasks of home maintenance.  Immanuel offers a whole spectrum of services, from Assisted Living to Skilled Nursing, for seniors needing various levels of help with activities of daily living.  While it’s part of Immanuel’s philosophy to respect residents’ choices, it’s hard to deny that some residents are here precisely because they can’t live independently.

So how do we help seniors avoid the depression that seems to come with dependency in aging?  First, we can remember that aging is something that happens to all of us (if we’re lucky).  It’s not shameful.  The physical changes that inevitably accompany aging are part of the package.  They’re often unpleasant, but they’re not shameful, either.  Aging just is, and all of us, at all ages, should work on remembering and respecting that.  It won’t stop dependency, but it can go a long way toward mitigating depression.

Second, we can look for tradeoffs and ways that accepting help in some areas can help seniors maintain some forms of independence.  For example, a senior who has some mobility problems can go more places for longer if she uses a walker than if she resists it.  Or, seniors who move in to communities like Buffalo Hill Terrace often find that they go out more because they have someone else to drive them and friends to accompany them.  They’re not getting out independently, but they’re not remaining isolated, either.  By depending on others (or on devices) for some things, seniors can often continue to do the things that matter most to them.

As we celebrate American independence, let’s make sure we remember the many forms it can take.  And let’s also remember that none of us lives completely independently.  It seems almost cliché to invoke English poet John Donne’s “Meditation 17” here, but I’m going to do it anyway.  When Donne wrote his famous lines “No man is an island,/entire of itself;/every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main” in the winter of 1623, he was seriously ill.  The poem reflects on the interconnectedness of communities and the loss a community feels when one member passes away.  This interconnectedness means that it’s okay for us to need each other, as Donne surely needed his friends and neighbors when he was sick.  All of us will need more help as we age, and that’s okay.  We can depend on others without losing ourselves.