From the Desk of Vassar Byrd - November 2014

November 1, 2014 - Vassar Byrd | I am sitting in the Dallas, TX airport, waiting for the last leg of my flight home, thinking over the past 5 days at the national conference of not-for-profit senior living providers - LeadingAge, in Nashville. This was one of the best conferences I have been to, in terms of content. I participated in sessions ranging from an innovative aquatic therapy program for elders with dementia, to how to provide services in rural communities, from a review of the unbelievable flooding disaster a sister CCRC experienced a year ago in Boulder, CO (a place I knew well from my time in graduate school there), to how to more effectively fund raise for CCRCs, and heard some stunning general session lectures on leadership and community engagement.

Beyond the sessions, I participated in the Public Policy Congress, as the appointed delegate representing the LeadingAge Leadership Academy - this is the body of members that sets the policy agenda for our entire national organization. And although the FOUR HOUR meeting is brutal, I am always reassured about the future of senior services when I hear all the smart people in that room.On Sunday morning, just before the official opening of the conference, I was a facilitator for the first meeting of the Single Site CCRC Collaborative. I was asked to be on the steering committee for this group almost a year ago. The purpose of gathering together the CEOs of single, independent CCRCs from around the country is to discover how we can pool our resources and leverage the ideas and best practices of colleagues everywhere. We are agreed this will be the first of many gatherings to discover where we can build partnerships and continue our mission to remain strong and independent. I was also privileged to watch Erin Cornell, Director of Health Services, graduate from her year long leadership academy program and give her final project synopsis at an event with all of her classmates. It was a very inspiring experience (and a terrific way to pick up new ideas and potential future staff members....)

And then Rose Villa also presented at two sessions! Debbie, Jonathan Jedeikin, and I conducted a session with the title, "Is It Time for an IT Makeover?" Over 100 people attended and everyone was very engaged in discussing how to update the technology infrastructure of an older campus of an independent community without spending every cent you've got. And the morning of the final day, I co-presented on serving the elders in the LGBT community. Again, a surprising turnout and very interactive group of providers from around the country discussing challenges and opportunities in this area.It's hard to pick out the one or two most meaningful experiences from this dense trip, but I will say that the public art experience was one of the things that really gave me goosebumps. Candy Chong, an artist in New Orleans, decided to do something with a vacant and derelict house near where she lived a couple of years ago. With the permission of the property's owner, she painted the street side of the house with chalkboard paint and then stenciled on the side of the house the words: Before I Die... She put in lines for people to write their personal wishes on and lots of containers of chalk.

In one day, it was covered with writing. After a week or so, the neighbors were commenting that what had been a scary and empty corner now had people there all the time and people were meeting each other and sharing their thoughts and comments. A real community was born in front of her eyes and the comments, especially the weight of the whole thing, read all together, was profound, fierce, moving, and alive. She has since replicated this all over the world. And at Nashville, she and LeadingAge put up a chalkboard wall right outside the convention center, in a park, with the words: As I Age.... and more lines to write on.

Reading what everyone has written there is overwhelming - and writing my own wishes made me feel connected to a much greater community in surprising ways. People are funny, profound, sad, whimsical.....but above all, writing your own truth provides a strong bridge to the world around you.

What would you write, given the chance?

As I Age__________________________