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Senior Living Providers Score with Kid-Centric Programs

Senior living has long implemented features to attract residents’ family and friends to communities, such as with bistros, salons and exotic animals, but the latest in visitor programming puts kids at its core.

One such provider is The Woodlands, Texas-based Avanti Senior Living, which created a new family-oriented program that will commence when the assisted living and memory care provider opens its first community, Avanti at Towne Lake, this summer.

The “A” Crew — for kids and by kids — was inspired by Chief Operating Officer Lori Alford’s past experiences with senior living, she tells SHN.

“Having a grandmother who lived in assisted living, I know it can be scary for a child to visit,” Alford says. “We want to build a building where that’s not the case, and the kids want to stay. When the little kids come to visit and we hear, ‘I don’t want to leave. I want to stay’ — then we’ve hit a home run.”

Avanti Senior Living will roll out the program at all of its six communities — four in the Lone Star State and two in Louisiana, with more in the development pipeline.

The first “A” Crew includes Alford’s own children, a 9-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy.

“All the activities were created by the kids,” she says, noting that children in the group share their views about how to make visits more fun and meaningful. Executives use that information to drive development of the program.

Already established is that all children will be able to check out iPads and enjoy kid-friendly food and drinks, and that indoor and outdoor space will be available for recreational activities. Avanti plans to build a playground outside each of its communities.

Communities will also host events, such as “Parents Night Out” and “A Day with Grandma and Grandpa.”

Meaningful Marketing

The value in bringing children into the communities outweighs programming costs, Alford says, noting it will also play a role in Avanti’s marketing efforts.

“It costs us something to provide the food and activities, but the benefits far outweigh any cost,” she says. “Ultimately, it will make our residents happy, contributing to customer satisfaction and retention. It will be comforting for the family members of residents to know we embrace children. Most residents that live with us have grandkids.”

The indoor recreational space set aside for children (and resident) use is the Savor Lounge, a staple in every Avanti community.

“It’s very tech-based, and has the look and feel of a Starbucks,” she says, noting that many children are accustomed to that type of atmosphere. “You might see kids playing on their tablets by the fireplace, or residents on their e-readers.”

Benefiting Young and Old 

Just north of the Lone Star State, another senior living provider has brought the classroom into the senior community, creating an environment where children are actively learning.

Oklahoma City, Okla.-based Grace Living Centers began a unique partnership with a local school district more than a decade ago that involved constructing two classrooms at its Jenks location. Grace Living Centers manages 26 properties in the Sooner State.

Currently the classrooms serve kindergartners and preschoolers who are part of the Jenks Public Schools school system. Based on the success of the program, Grace Living Centers plans to roll out similar programming at three additional locations, says Don Greiner, president of Grace Living Centers.

The two classrooms serve 22 kindergartners and 22 preschoolers who call the senior community’s 170 residents “grandma” and “grandpa.”

The Jenks skilled nursing facility was originally next to a Jenks Public Schools early childhood center that had a playground in need of repair. Greiner approached the school to discuss building a playground on the senior community’s property so residents could watch the children play — and soon plans were in motion to move the childhood center into the senior community.

Grace Living Centers constructed the classrooms as part of its expansion and renovation efforts at the time, and now leases the classrooms to the district for $1 a year.

“It’s hard to measure an ROI, but the benefit for our residents is in quality of life,” Greiner says. “More families want their children in our building than there are slots. Parents see the value. These kids are reading better than their peers because of the one-on-one attention they receive from the residents.”

Residents regularly interact with the children, such as through reading together.

Despite the model’s current success, implementing such a program is not without initial challenges.

“You need to have the health department on board,” Greiner says, adding that it’s also important to get school administration and teachers involved early on.

“A lot of times the administration is on board, but you need to get to the teachers,” he says, noting that when new construction is involved teachers should weigh in on design. Working with the school district to discuss the proposed program with parents is also key.

Inviting children into senior living may also have one desirable but unexpected effect: inspiring them to pursue careers in senior living.

“If young children see that senior housing isn’t scary, but that it’s an honor to be taking care of grandmas and grandpas, hopefully it inspires them to get into the business somehow,” Alford says.

Written by Cassandra Dowell