Story and photos by Janie Magruder
If you’re like most Tempeans, you’ve driven by the place dozens—maybe hundreds—of times. It’s that understated development on the west side of Rural Road, north of Guadalupe Road, Westchester Senior Living.
Perhaps your son’s Cub Scout den sang Christmas carols and played games with residents there, or you’ve dropped by to inquire about residency for an older family member, a friend, even for yourself.
“Many people have a story about Westchester, and I hear a lot; ‘I’ve lived in Tempe all my life, and I’ve always thought I’d end up here,’” said marketing manager Kathleen Fanning of the 40-year-old campus. “We have second and third generations coming in, and they say, ‘My mom was here, my grandma was here; my mom’s moving in, save a space for me.’”
The 55-plus community has nearly 200 residents in various life stages and with varying needs. Owned and operated by Volunteers of America, a nonprofit, faith-based organization, Westchester, at 6100 S. Rural Road, offers independent living, assisted living, short-term rehabilitation, memory care and skilled nursing care.
Because VOA runs senior living communities across the country, many Arizona snowbirds are familiar with its reputation and services, Fanning said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, the public is invited to see Westchester up close. A free Senior Fair and Blood Drive is planned from 2-7 p.m. in the Fiesta Room. A speaker from the Area Agency on Aging will give a talk, “Successful Aging” at 4 p.m., and representatives of Jackson White Law, Arizona Medicare, Covenant Home Health, The Doctor Is In, Aviant Hospice, AZ MediQuip and Bayada Home Health Care, among others, will be on hand.
Admission is free, and although walk-ins are welcome, appointments are encouraged. Pre-register at redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor keyword, Westchester, or call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767).
According to a National Institutes of Health study reported in October, there is a critical shortage of blood at hospitals in developing countries around the world. Blood drives are always needed, Fanning noted.
“This is one thing so many people can do that costs them nothing but an hour of time, and look how many people it benefits—not just in disaster relief, but right here, right now,” she said.
The Senior Fair was planned, Fanning said, because with the aging of the Baby Boomers, more people are searching for available resources in their communities. Westchester’s experts can answer questions about estate planning, veteran benefits, the Arizona Long Term Care System (Arizona Medicaid), home health and caregiving services, end-of-life options and more.
“We want people to learn about the best quality of life for whatever their situation is,” Fanning said. “They need to understand every component to make good decisions.”
Nearly a year ago, Westchester had a change in administration, ushering in a model of servant leadership that challenges staff to find ways to “say yes” to residents’ requests, said executive director Milissa Watkins.
“We want everyone who resides here to lead purposeful lives, and to age in place as long as it is physically and mentally possible,” Watkins said. “We want our residents to be proud of their homes, and their children and loved ones to sleep well at night, knowing they made the right choice.”
To that end, Westchester has converted a two-bedroom apartment into a fitness center, and is installing an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved lift at the community’s swimming pool, both suggestions from residents.
On any given week, guest coordinator Yvette Harris organizes dozens of enrichment activities: chair yoga, bridge club, Spanish class, cello performances, movie nights, bingo, tai chi, afternoon walks, poker and trivia happy hour, to name a few.
Residents gathered on a recent Friday afternoon to converse with each other, compete in a timed Thanksgiving craft and enjoy shrimp cocktail, mozzarella sticks, wine and soda. Oh, and there was white zinfandel, a special request of resident Pat Royce-West.
Fanning, who joined the team six months ago, has led an interesting life in places around the country, working in corporate advertising as a licensed paramedic, as well as an investment broker, licensed masseuse and personal trainer.
As her interest in and involvement with older people grew, she said, she decided to pursue a degree in human development, adult development and gerontology.
Fanning’s office door, painted a bright blue, welcomes residents and visitors alike. There’s Lottie Hofstetter, a 9-year-resident whose pleasant manner is an anchor for new people. And Royce-West, whose sense of humor is always on display.
Responding to a visitor’s question, she polls the other women at her happy hour table: “I don’t make friends easily, do I?”
And they just chuckle.