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Alice Willard has an impressive resume: highlights include nursing at hospitals including Massachusetts General, being a clinical research nurse for an NIH-funded center, and running her own business on the side as a florist.

At her latest job, she’s managed to save management a good bit of money by using her wholesale connections to get landscaping plants. She also serves as a consultant on health programming.

Any organization would be thrilled to have her, but she chose StoneRidge in Mystic, Conn., a continuing care retirement community managed by Life Care Services. And she works for free.

Willard is one of the many resident volunteers who bring their lifetime of skills and knowledge to help with operations in the senior living communities where they live.

While communities may have dozens of resident volunteer committees that keep things dynamic with activities and trips, a selection of these committees directly help operations, as Willard does on the Grounds and Gardens and Health committees. And operations is glad to have them on board.

The eyes and ears

“I think of them as sort of the eyes and ears of the community, because they really do represent such a wide swath of interests and life experience that help us do our job better,” says Kathleen Dess, StoneRidge executive director.

Another such operations “resident heroes” is Charlie Schott. Shortly after he moved to StoneRidge, Schott was talking to some fellow residents and was told: “You probably ought to get on the Finance Committee.”

His experience, which included stints in the Navy, at IBM, and with three startup companies, as well as being president of three homeowners’ associations, had tipped them off. He’s now chair of the Finance Committee and vice chair of the Residents Council, where Willard is chair.

Among other things, the Finance Committee manages the annual resident survey, where residents can make their priorities and needs known.

“There’s a lot of discussion with management on daily ongoing operational issues and on priorities for our capital investment as we go forward year to year,” Schott says. “It’s a collaborative effort. We produce operational reports for the residents every month, making the spreadsheets and data supplied by management readable and understandable.”

Using past experience

Having a resident committee handle this makes for a better process all around, Dess says. “The Finance Committee plays a very important role in providing a level of transparency and conveying information to the community at large.”

“It’s been fun to be able to use those past experiences,” says Willard, who is also on the resident Health Committee and the Scholarship Committee, which awards education funds to employees and their children. Each committee tries to benefit the community at large.

“Even something like the Building Safety and Security Committee—you might think all they’re doing is making sure the electricity is running properly,” says Willard. “But they identify needs that go on to help the residents. They extend out in numerous ways to the community.”

The Conservation Committee, for instance, works to improve sustainability, but it also invites speakers from the League of Conservation Voters and political representatives to discuss legislation. The committee also came to Dess several years ago with a plan to help get more sustainable dining products and cut styrofoam and plastic straw use.

Another committee put together a slide show of residents who are veterans, which is shown on the display screens on Veterans and Memorial days strengthening understanding among the community.

Making a difference

Dess and others in management roles often help support and participate in the committees, for which Willard says she has great appreciation for. “There’s a lot of collaboration and collegiality that allows us to be more helpful to StoneRidge administration.”

“To have the residents say, ‘we need this,’ or ‘there’s a gap here’ really helps us do our jobs and fulfill the needs of the community,” Dess says.

Community life services director Michael Langlois also works collaboratively with the resident committees as they plan activities and events and coordinate calendars. “It’s a great way for our residents to continue to be vital participants,” he says. “They’re still engaged, and they’re still making a difference.”

They bring a “wealth of life experience,” Langlois says. “It makes it exciting for me to come to work every day.”

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