Home for the Holidays

By / Posted on December 7th, 2015

By Doug Luginbill, Director of Resource Development and Church Relations, Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio

The holiday season in a nursing home is often filled with carolers, family visits and special treats. Activity rooms fill with elementary school children singing familiar Christmas songs as elders smile with enjoyment. Christmas trees adorn the lobbies, dining rooms and other places where space can be found. It is a festive time.

A plate of cookies are enjoyed by Elders and their families.

A plate of cookies are enjoyed by Elders and their families.

Often, Elders are passive observers of these festivities, but in The Green House homes, this is not the case. At Willow Ridge in Bluffton, OH, Elders not only sit back and enjoy, but are actively involved in decorating, planning special meals, making tree ornaments and even baking for the holidays. At Willow Ridge, the Elders are truly “home for the holidays.”

Willow Ridge is composed of two Green House homes. Each home provides 24-hour nursing care in ten private rooms with private bathrooms located around a central hearth/dining room and kitchen. Like in so many homes during the holidays, the kitchen and dining room table become the center for food, fellowship and reminiscing.

In a December 15, 2014 New York Times article entitled The Green House Effect: Homes for the Elderly to Thrive, the author highlights some of the unique aspects of living in a Green House home. The writer states, “(Elders) participate, when able, in food preparation and eat in a communal setting that is more like a home dining room than a cafeteria. Unlike the regimented meals in nursing homes, Green House residents are free to choose when to eat.”

The holidays can be especially difficult for some people. This is often exacerbated for elders living in traditional

Stockings are hung with care at the mantle in Frieda House.

Stockings are hung with care at the mantle in Frieda House.

long-term care facilities. Loss is keenly felt during seasons when family traditions and social gatherings are no longer possible. The challenges of sharing a room with a roommate also are compounded during the holidays. How does one decorate ½ a room? Where can gifts be exchanged festively? Where can the extended family share a meal together?

The elders, their families and staff at Willow Ridge work together to provide activities and events that help fill some of the voids felt during the holidays. It is not uncommon for the families of elders living at Willow Ridge to plan holiday potluck meals together. Impromptu caroling around the hearth often happens. Families can reserve the den to open gifts together or skype other family members. Each elder room can be decorated to her or his preference.

A year ago, Frieda House (one of the homes at Willow Ridge) celebrated the holidays with an “open house” and invited family and friends to join them in singing carols around the piano, playing table games, enjoying Christmas cookies and a trip around town to view the Christmas lights. There was a festive mood in the house as several families sang Silver Bells and Away in a Manger at the piano as the daughter of Christine, one of the Elders, played the piano. Another Elder, Doris, enjoyed cookies and conversation around the dining room table with her daughter and two grandchildren. As is typical at most family gatherings, young children ran through the house, their eyes all aglow, knowing that Santa was on his way. After returning from seeing the Christmas lights in Bluffton, another Elder, Durand, headed straight to the kitchen for some fudge and buckeyes.

The tree is adorned with doves bearing names of Elders who have passed away while living at Frieda House.

The tree is adorned with doves bearing names of Elders who have passed away while living at Frieda House.

In addition to the Open House at Willow Ridge, Elders living there have enjoyed a number of activities and events during the Christmas season including:
• A trip to see the Christmas tree display at the Allen County Museum
• A carol sing-along and craft activity with local Boy Scouts, baking gingerbread cookies and snowmen
• Christmas trivia supper
• Elder/Staff Christmas Meal
• Making snow globes with a craft club
• Family Christmas Day meal
• Barberettes singing at Betty House

In deciding whether or not to pursue the Green House philosophy, Laura Voth, CEO of Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio stated, “When we toured the first Green House homes in Tupelo, MS in 2004, we were struck by how much the houses felt like real homes. It fit so well with our mission of providing person-centered care and purposeful living in a Christian environment. We were convinced this is what the Elders of our communities deserved.”

Since opening in 2012, Willow Ridge has been well received by the community. “We have been full since April, 2013 when we received our licenses from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS),” states Rhonda Wolpert, Administrator of Willow Ridge. “When the Ohio Department of Health did their annual survey last year, they were impressed by the real-home atmosphere as well as the quality of care. In fact, they could hardly believe they were in a nursing home,” Wolpert reported.

Much of the reason for the positive survey can be attributed to the excellent care-givers and the staffing model that is used. Care givers (called Shahbaz in the Green House model) are universal workers meaning that they are involved in all aspects of managing the household. Kind of like the moms and dads of the house, they do laundry, prepare

Frieda House, Willow Ridge

Frieda House, Willow Ridge

meals, and do light housekeeping in addition to providing direct Elder care. This provides increased interaction with the Elders, allowing the Shahbaz to get to know the Elders they serve more fully. There is also consistency in staffing which means the same Shahbazim (plural for Shahbaz) care for the same Elders nearly every day. Each Shahbaz is responsible for just five Elders whereas in many traditional nursing homes an aid typically cares for 7-15 elders.

The unique philosophy and environment of the Green House homes makes it possible for Elders like Christine, Doris, Durand and others to say with sincerity, “It’s good to be home for the holidays.”


Ten Reasons to Drive to the Green House Annual Meeting & Celebration in Memphis

By / Posted on November 16th, 2014

The team from Willow Ridge submitted the following blog highlighting their trip to the annual conference:

The last two years Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio, Willow Ridge, drove to the annual Green House Conference.  Last year we drove 12 hours to Boston.  At 5:00 p.m. today, five of us arrived in Memphis after traveling 10 hours.  Shahbazim Mel Lehman and Robbin House, Guide Barb Lawrence, DON Heather Clum and Development Director Doug Luginbill climbed aboard a rented Dodge Caravan at 6:00 a.m. 

Here are ten reasons we would do it again…unless it is in Seward, Alaska!

10. Your snacks are better than airplane snacks!

9. You never leave the ground.

8. You don’t have to worry about your clothes arriving with you.

7. Five people renting one van is much less expensive than five airline tickets.  More money to spend on elders!

6. You get to talk about important issues like how to best protect elders’ clothing when eating meals.

5. You get to strategize about how to get the most out of the Green House Meeting.

4. You learn to know about each other’s families and interests.

3. You get to see cotton fields, Cyprus swamps and deer grazing in fields.

2. You build community!

1. The convivium is awesome!


Every Home Has A Story

By / Posted on November 1st, 2012

At a recent conference attended by our Green House Guide, Rhonda Wolpert, she heard Dr. Bill Thomas explain how important it is that a home has a story. At our Home Blessing, Laura Voth and Doug Luginbill shared the initial stories of the first two Green House homes in Ohio. House A, or 101 Willow Ridge Drive, has become Betty House and is named after Betty and Dallas Bash. Betty lived at Mennonite Memorial Home for 25 years. Dallas lived there for 3 years as well. During those 25 years Betty, Dallas and their family modeled the commitment, dedication, and love that makes family relationships successful. We pray that this same spirit of love and commitment will grace Betty House long into the future. House B or 103 Willow Ridge Drive is named Frieda House after James and Frieda Basinger. James and Frieda grew up in Bluffton and attended Bluffton University. Their careers took them to various locations throughout the country and they retired in Bisbee, AZ. While they never lived in Bluffton after college, the Basingers did not forget their family and friends in Bluffton. For three years Frieda made a $1000 gift at Christmas-time with the instruction, “Make the resident’s lives brighter.” Frieda passed away in 2009. It was only then that we discovered Bluffton University and Mennonite Home Communities were named as the sole recipients of their estate, each receiving over $500,000. This was the gift MHCO needed to move forward with Willow Ridge. We pray that the lives of the elders at Frieda House will always remain bright.


Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio Celebrates The Grand Opening of The First Two Green House Homes In Ohio

By / Posted on October 29th, 2012

By: Doug Luginbill, Director of Resource Development and Church Relations

“I want to call your attention to the wind.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s been blowing!”  With those words, Dr. Bill Thomas stated the obvious but also drew attention to how the “winds of change” have been blowing at Mennonite Home Communities for over fifty years.  The most recent change was why he and others were gathered that day; the blessing of the first two Green House homes in Ohio.

It was a very blustery day as over 250 people gathered under a tent to participate in “A Home Blessing: Celebrating Life.”  The hour-long celebration was marked by Laura Voth, CEO, retelling the eight-year-long journey of persistence and patience that brought Mennonite Home Communities to that day.  Words of thanks were expressed to many people for making that day possible; THE GREEN HOUSE® Project, pH7 Architects, Garlock Brothers Construction, Citizens National Bank, many subcontractors, and staff.  Community supporters were also thanked for the $1.8 million contributed toward the New Vision: Transforming Elder Living campaign that made the project financially feasible.

Phyllis Osborne, an elder who will be moving into one of the homes at Willow Ridge, shared how she had a change of heart about The Green House project.  As an assisted living resident, she was very happy right where she was and couldn’t think of living anywhere else.  When her doctor encouraged her to consider nursing care, she had to “eat crow” and “begged” to see the homes at Willow Ridge.  When she and her family toured the homes, she knew immediately that this was the place for her.  Phyllis, along with her son, a Shahbaz and a member of the clinical support team spoke a litany of mutual support and commitment to one another as a plant was symbolically transplanted and watered.  The litany ended with the following words spoken by those gathered, “Together we nurture one another.  May our Creator bless these homes with purpose and life.”

Lisa Maxwell, Green House Project Guide, shared the importance of being part of the broader Green House network and Ohio Long Term Care Ombudsman expressed appreciation for the person-centered care and culture change focus The Green House homes make possible.

As guests exited the tent they were given a yellow tulip bulb to which was attached the following verse of poetry; “An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for and connection to the future.”

The celebration ended with a tour of The Green House homes.  Lots of “wows” and “this is beautiful” were heard as guests snacked on cookies made in the homes by Willow Ridge staff.


Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio shares “5 P.E.A.R.L.S of Green House Living”

By / Posted on March 13th, 2012

Check out the progress on construction!

Our Project Implementation Team (PIT) was given the instruction to develop “Three Key Messages” that would help explain succinctly what our Green House homes are all about.  We did our best to narrow it down to three but couldn’t quite do it.  So, with ideas from the PIT and the Communication Work Group, I developed these five messages.  Hopefully the use of the acronym “PEARL” can help us all remember the key messages.  We have shared the 5 PEARLS with staff, contributors to our New Vision: Transforming Elder Living campaign, and recently shared it with our local Chamber of Commerce.  It is also available to the public in our current facilities.

 Five P.E.A.R.L.S of GREEN HOUSE Living

Preferences: In a Green House home, elders rule! Actively involved in the decisions regarding their care and daily activities, elders have freedom of choice regarding many activities throughout their day.

Environment: Home is where the hearth is. Each Green House home provides private bedrooms with full bathrooms surrounding a common hearth room complete with fireplace, sofas and recliners. A front porch, back patio and large back yard provide opportunities to visit with neighbors and enjoy God’s creation.

Accessibility: Financial barriers are minimized. Green House homes will be home to elders who pay privately as well as those receiving Medicaid.  The ratio of those paying privately and those receiving Medicaid will be similar to the ratio at Mennonite Memorial Home.

Relationships: Caregivers are empowered! Encouraged to utilize their training, instincts and relationships with each elder they serve, the Shahbaz (Green House term for caregiver), nurses and household care team grow in dignity, confidence and self-worth. This relationship of respect and compassion transforms the institution of nursing care into a household of love.

Life: Live with meaning! Just as one’s own home provides purposeful living, so the Green House homes provide opportunities to engage in meaningful activities. Bible studies, conversation around the table, birthday celebrations, swapping recipes, visiting with family, relaxing with a cup of coffee, reading a book, playing games and many other activities and events keep the “living” in life.


Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio shares "5 P.E.A.R.L.S of Green House Living"

By / Posted on March 13th, 2012

Check out the progress on construction!

Our Project Implementation Team (PIT) was given the instruction to develop “Three Key Messages” that would help explain succinctly what our Green House homes are all about.  We did our best to narrow it down to three but couldn’t quite do it.  So, with ideas from the PIT and the Communication Work Group, I developed these five messages.  Hopefully the use of the acronym “PEARL” can help us all remember the key messages.  We have shared the 5 PEARLS with staff, contributors to our New Vision: Transforming Elder Living campaign, and recently shared it with our local Chamber of Commerce.  It is also available to the public in our current facilities.

 Five P.E.A.R.L.S of GREEN HOUSE Living

Preferences: In a Green House home, elders rule! Actively involved in the decisions regarding their care and daily activities, elders have freedom of choice regarding many activities throughout their day.

Environment: Home is where the hearth is. Each Green House home provides private bedrooms with full bathrooms surrounding a common hearth room complete with fireplace, sofas and recliners. A front porch, back patio and large back yard provide opportunities to visit with neighbors and enjoy God’s creation.

Accessibility: Financial barriers are minimized. Green House homes will be home to elders who pay privately as well as those receiving Medicaid.  The ratio of those paying privately and those receiving Medicaid will be similar to the ratio at Mennonite Memorial Home.

Relationships: Caregivers are empowered! Encouraged to utilize their training, instincts and relationships with each elder they serve, the Shahbaz (Green House term for caregiver), nurses and household care team grow in dignity, confidence and self-worth. This relationship of respect and compassion transforms the institution of nursing care into a household of love.

Life: Live with meaning! Just as one’s own home provides purposeful living, so the Green House homes provide opportunities to engage in meaningful activities. Bible studies, conversation around the table, birthday celebrations, swapping recipes, visiting with family, relaxing with a cup of coffee, reading a book, playing games and many other activities and events keep the “living” in life.