Seniors at Blakehurst Senior Living Community Thrive Through Giving Back
Blakehurst senior living community in Towson, Maryland, has been a premier location for seniors to age in place for more than 24 years. Located just a few miles from the thriving city of Baltimore, Blakehurst offers seniors a life with a high standard of living, a focus on wellness, and an active, engaged lifestyle.
One way seniors stay engaged is through Blakehurst’s volunteer programs. With 43 different committees and activity groups, residents have a wide range of on- and off-campus opportunities from which to choose.
Debra Bartgis, Blakehurst’s Community Life Services Director, said, “We look at our volunteer program as an opportunity for residents to be engaged in where they live. We advertise the different groups and residents are invited to come sign up.”
Residents Helping Residents
Helping others begins at home, within the Blakehurst campus. Residents on the Transportation Brigade help their neighbors with mobility issues by transporting those in wheelchairs from the Chestnut Green Health Center to activities around the campus. Those on the Hospitality Committee welcome new residents and invite seniors to various community programs.
“When seniors move into Blakehurst, it’s a major life change. Leaving their home, perhaps losing a spouse. So our Hospitality Committee reaches out,” said Debra.
“Everyone gets a buddy, somebody who is going to meet and greet them, take them to lunch and dinner, and keep an eye on them. We want our new residents to have built-in friends they can call and ask questions, someone who will be a friend and guide them along the way. Our residents take care of each other.”
“We play bridge in our Chestnut Green Health Center once a week. For many of our folks, bridge skills are in their long-term memory, but they may not be able to remember the bid that was just called. So we have a volunteer hostess who comes and oversees the bridge games so our residents with cognitive issues can still enjoy that activity.”
Debra said the Dining Committee, one of the “hot groups,” has so many interested residents that they have a policy in place that allows seniors to stay on for two years and then asks them to allow others the opportunity to take the lead. “Our resident association has bylaws about our activity committees and volunteer groups to make sure it’s fair for everyone.”
Blakehurst senior living community also has some unique volunteer opportunities, such as the group that has dubbed themselves “The Tree Huggers.”
“They are concerned with not only preserving the trees on our 42 acres, but they also label those trees so residents, when they are walking around the community, know what trees we have. This group also offer tours, taking residents around the community paths, giving a talk that includes each tree’s name and how old it is.”
Debra also follows behind the group in a golf cart with residents who cannot walk, so they can participate.
A resident-run Trips Group plans all of the trips outside of the Blakehurst community. “Volunteers gather information on the trip, get input from other residents, and then meet with staff to discuss what we want to do and how we’re going to do it,” said Debra.
“Recently we rented a water taxi at the Inner Harbor. We docked at the new Sagamore Pendry Baltimore Hotel and ate at the restaurant there owned by Kevin Plank. That was a huge success.”
The group has always planned trips within the United States, but is now planning their first international trip.
Seniors Helping Students Helping Seniors
Seniors at Blakehurst also volunteer outside of campus, at schools and hospitals. Blakehurst residents are always excited to engage with youth in the community, and our cooperatives are a testament to the win-win for both seniors and students.
“We currently work with sixth graders from Loyola Middle School who come over and spend time with our community. We also worked for several years with a private school in the city whose students developed new and innovative ideas for our residents… we would go out and visit the school, they would come visit us,” said Debra.
Additionally, Blakehurst helps local students achieve service hours toward graduation. “Through our Shadow Program, students come in and shadow someone in Chestnut Green and provide a second set of hands. We’ve actually had a few students come back and work with us or decide they want to work in the healthcare field because of their exposure here,” shared Debra.
“Recently a student who had volunteered with us for several years was recognized in the paper for perfect attendance. He mentioned how he was going to keep coming to Blakehurst to play the piano and visit with residents until he has to leave for college.
“Bringing our seniors and youth together is a wonderful opportunity. Students know technology so they can help seniors with their tablets or smartphones while listening to seniors share their stories.”
Blakehurst residents have volunteered in the community for decades doing everything from answering phones or filing to sitting on various organization’s boards. They continue to go out and contribute within the local community as long as they are able. But even those with less mobility or with memory issues still find ways to reach out and offer their services to others.
“Our Chestnut Glen residents still want to contribute to the community, so we’ve adopted some local veteran hospitals and we make Valentines for Vets,” said Debra. “They also make seasonal tray toppers and goodie bags for about 100 homebound seniors in the Meals on Wheels program.
They’ll always include a sticker that says, ‘Thinking of you. From your friends at Blakehurst.’”
Ginny, a 90-year-old Blakehurst resident, is a Lifetime Member of the Girls Scouts. Local troops are invited to hold their awards ceremonies at the community, including the very special ‘Bridging Ceremony’.
“We happen to have a green bridge, which the girls walk over for their ceremony. We ask our residents to come down. Ginny is always willing to come down and talk to the girls about her experience with Girl Scouts,” shared Debra.
“It’s a great way to share the history of Girls Scouts with the girls and say, ‘here’s what I’ve done, and see what I’m still doing now.’ It’s great.”
Debra said the best takeaway for seniors is the social engagement, but there are also great cognitive components to volunteering, too. “Socially, seniors are getting the chance to reach out and meet new people. Cognitively it’s a great challenge – such as in our gift shop where our new volunteer gets a chance to price things and scan them into our computer system.”
Seniors also get to offer their skills and talents from years of working in a particular field or learning certain trades.
“We so often hear in [society] that there is not a lot of value put [on] our seniors. But they come to us with so many years of skills and knowledge, that we want them to be able to share that with not only their co-workers, but with students who may be looking at a certain degree program,” said Debra.
“Students will come in and work with a senior one-on-one and say, ‘Tell me about your field – how can I learn more about that.’ We all have that need to feel that we are important to somebody.”
To find out more about the services and lifestyle options at Blakehurst senior living community, get in touch with us at 410-870-7817.