JSL is so proud of our CEO, Nancy Heinrich. Here is a copy of her important address at the Annual Meeting, June 27, 2023. 

Good afternoon, everybody. And thank you Mark Kowalsky for your commitment and dedication to JSL and those we serve.  I’m really happy to be together with you all: Board Members, staff, community members and agency partners, at our beautiful Teitel Apartments in Oak Park.

For those of you who don’t know, the Harriett and Ben Teitel Apartments is a 100% HUD-subsidized community.  Half of our 150 residents here are Russian speaking from the Former Soviet Union.  While some of our residents here have incomes of less than $500 a month, yes less than $500 a month, you can see that they have a beautiful home that provides more than just a place to live – it provides 5 kosher meals a week, opportunities for gardening, social activities, transportation, out trips, social work support, translation services and more.

We’re immensely proud of this community and of our five other communities as well: Prentis Independent and Coville Assisted Living Apartments right across the parking lot and the Meer and Hechtman Independent Living Apartments and the Fleischman Assisted Living Residence in West Bloomfield.  We’re also proud of the Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program which we operate on two sites with Gesher Human Services, the Program for Holocaust Survivors and their Families – and so much more.

Today, I’d like to talk about the theme of our Meeting: The Power of Purpose. JSL’s purpose is evident in our Mission Statement:  To nurture a sense of community and enrich the lives of older adults while embracing Jewish values and celebrating life.

It’s also evident in our Vision:  to be the provider of choice for outstanding residences and compassionate services that enable older adults to live healthy, joyous and purposeful lives.  But what do we mean by “purposeful”?

I did some research and found a definition of purpose that I found to be simple and appropriate:  To have a purpose – means to serve something other than yourself. By this definition, as Mark just described, our Board has purpose.  Everything that Mark outlined in his words – is in service to others:  to the older adults we serve. Having served on this Board myself, being engaged in serving others – provided a purpose that improved my life immensely.  And I feel beyond fortunate that my job is one that not only pays my way, but it also allows me to serve others every day.  There are challenges – lots of challenges, but it is the service of others, the PURPOSE, that fills me up when the challenges deplete me.

But how do we enable our residents and program participants to live purposeful lives?  And why is this so, so important?

One study I read about looked at nursing homes that assigned one group of people to take care of a plant. Here’s what they found:

“After a year and a half, psychologists found that those who cared for a plant did remarkably better than those who didn’t. They were more social, alert, cheerful, active, and healthy. Most surprising was that those who took care of a plant actually lived longer.”  So even something as simple as taking care of a plant can give peoples’ lives a sense of purpose and vigor and yield benefits – including longevity.

Finding a purpose is a very individual thing.  One of the most common purposes people find is to start a family and raise children. It requires taking responsibility for others and caring for others’ well-being and happiness. Of course, there are many other ways to find purpose too. Many people find purpose through their work or career.

At JSL communities, most of our residents have raised their children and are no longer as responsible for caring for their children’s well-being, if they had families.  Their work lives are behind them.   But they still need a reason to get up every day.

Living in a JSL community provides many opportunities to find things to serve other than oneself – to find purpose.  Take Hechtman resident Phyllis Lewkowitz for example.  She was one of this year’s Eight Over Eighty honorees.  She finds purpose in baking for others – the relationships she forms by these simple acts of caring for others are remarkable and provide a purpose beyond what she would have found living isolated from others.

We have residents actively involved in Resident Councils and recycling for the benefit of their JSL communities – again, PURPOSE.  Remaining engaged in local and world news and events is important for some of our residents and they can attend current event lectures and discussions – not only sharpening their minds but providing a sense of purpose – caring about others in the world.

What about JSL’s purpose, more specifically?  While I know we’re all tired of hearing the P word and the C word (Pandemic and Covid), I’m afraid that like the rest of the world, it’s effects still linger – and at JSL, where we cared for over 700 older adults who were disproportionately impacted by the Pandemic with almost three years of restrictions – during those years  – we, both Staff and Board, were very clear about what our purpose was:  to keep our residents as safe as possible from Covid.  And now, three years later, while we by and large fulfilled that purpose, as an Agency, we are still very much impacted by the Pandemic.

I would characterize the last year as a year of transition – while we still had plenty to deal with in terms of following regulations and making decisions about how to balance the needs of our residents to socialize and regain their sense of normalcy – with the need to ensure they weren’t unnecessarily exposed to Covid, we had to take stock of the economic impacts of the Pandemic – higher costs of goods and services, food, and labor costs in terms of wages and benefits and agency staff due to a tight labor market, and devastatingly higher costs of insurance.  And this has been coupled with LOWER census in our market rate communities – where temporary shut-down of leasing to new residents and competition have had very significant lingering financial impact.

So where is our focus and purpose today and going forward?  We’re still laser focused on our purpose to nurture a sense of community and enrich the lives of our residents and program participants – but from a short-term perspective – we have to fill our market rate communities to be able to maximize our ability to keep pace with the needs and desires of existing and future residents.

In order to do this, a lot of time and energy was expended this year in improving our marketing and brand awareness – primarily through our relationship with Tandem Senior Advisors – with whom we have collaborated to invest in significant training and hiring of marketing staff, implementing modernized software, creating new marketing materials, planning and executing outreach events and implementing new content and strategies on social media platforms.  We have also hired a new PR partner (hello, CKC), and so much more.  We’ve seen the fruits of these efforts already and hope to see much more in the year to come.

We continue to invest in our building infrastructure – Fleischman Residence apartments are being renovated and new one bedroom and deluxe studios are being created to provide more desirable options for future and existing residents.  The common areas will also be updated and refreshed.

Renovation of units at the Meer apartments are also underway as is a beautiful, expanded patio and garden in the Meer Courtyard – to provide opportunities for residents to spend the warmer months in the fresh air together.

Having renovated all of the Hechtman 1 apartments and common areas, we will soon conclude the expansion of the Hechtman dining room so that the residents will be able to eat together and not in shifts.

We’re also working on a possible expansion of dining options on the West Bloomfield campus – all in service to our residents – to meet their expectations and to attract them to our JSL communities so that we can continue the work we do.

As for long-term goals, we’re still concerned about the Middle Market – those with too much income to qualify to live in one of our Affordable Communities but not enough to afford our Market Rate communities.

I know I’ve been beating this drum for many, many years but with the dismal statistics on savings rates of the Baby Boomers, we know that this segment of our community will need safe housing that they can afford that will support their needs in retirement – and the Federal government is not helping with this sector.  With the eldest Boomers in their early seventies but not looking for senior housing until their eighties, we have less than a decade to try to provide them with the housing and service supports they will need.

We ask all of you – our community, to help us find ways to accomplish this – we stay abreast of communities around the country and the world, seeking models that fit the bill.  We have yet to find a model that works, but maybe with your help, Detroit will be one of the first communities that figures out how to serve this population affordably and well.  This is my challenge to you, and to our Board and to myself.

Thank you all for your time and attention today. I welcome our new board members, and our returning board member, all soon to be installed.

Thank you to our out-going board members, Alison Klein, Warren Frenkel and Andrea Teitel, for their dedicated service, and thank you to all of our board members for their spectacular contributions and partnership.

I am incredibly grateful to our JSL team members for their dedication to our residents and program participants and to our community partners, our donors, Federation, Gesher Human Services, Jewish Family Service, The JCC, and all of the other Jewish Agencies, both under the Federation umbrella and others, all of whom support older adults. We can’t do this work without you.

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