Luckily, in the B’nai B’rith Senior Housing network, a dedicated group of resident volunteers makes sure it is the latter, through their individual buildings’ “Residents Council” or “Association.”
The membership of each Residents Council is comprised of all the residents in that particular building. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Council is the voice in the community, and acts a liaison between management and the residents, as well as between the residents and the general neighborhood. Another significant role for every Council is to create programming and activities for the tenants. The Councils develop and carry out programs which they feel will improve the social and economic status of their residents.
Moreover, the Council truly enhances the “quality of life” in their respective housing developments, creating a sense of community, shared responsibility and inspiring residents to have a feeling of civic pride in their homes. A key part of this is involving all members in the planning and execution of activities, whether it is an ice cream social or a senior prom.
Senior housing communities that have a well functioning Residents Council, besides just benefiting the residents, also will have benefits for management. Working together on solving community problems allows management to have a better, more satisfying relationship with their tenants, creating a sense of respect instead of mutual distrust. Management can work with the Council to combat problems that affect all residents, such as residents propping open outside doors, people not cleaning up after their dogs, or any other issues that can impact people living in such close proximity in congregate housing. Although not required, HUD is very supportive of each Residents Council in all HUD subsidized buildings.
Recognizing how important these associations are for the tenants, Mark Olshan, Ph.D., director of the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services, created a program almost 30 years ago to provide training for these resident leaders of the B’nai B’rith buildings. The first Resident Leadership Retreat took place over three days. Over time, staff realized that it was such a wonderful opportunity, and with so much to learn, the retreat was eventually expanded to six days.
The retreat features a variety of workshops conducted by staff from the B’nai B’rith Center for Senior Services including: how to run a tenants’ association, how to plan activities and programs for their fellow residents, how to recruit and retain volunteers, how to write newsletters and ideas to celebrate the diversity in our buildings. Sessions also provide icebreakers encouraging participants to network and learn from one another. A highlight of the camp experience is the opportunities for intergenerational activities with the elementary through high school population at camp. These programs include Israeli dancing and singing lessons, Shabbat services and various social events.
But that’s not all. The program is designed to be a memorable experience not just for the seniors who attend, but to be a benefit to all of the residents of our housing communities. Each participant is given the opportunity to learn skills so that when they go back to their buildings, they are able to make a difference in the lives of their fellow residents with a strong Residents Association.
In early August, 36 residents will be attending the next Resident Leadership Retreat. Hear from residents who took part in the 2013 retreat: