Chapel Hill Eldercare Homes & Day Program Redefine Community
“They really are just houses in a neighborhood,” says Paul Klever, describing the Charles House Association’s two eldercare homes in Chapel Hill, N.C. Unlike the vast majority of “senior living” homes in the United States, Charles House-Yorktown and Charles House-Winmore are real houses nestled in real suburban Chapel Hill neighborhoods.
Each home has six bedrooms (one for each of it residents), a kitchen, and a living room—comparable to many American homes. Charles House-Winmore sits adjacent to the community playground, where children and their parents gather as elders watch from their deck. Local Girl Scout troops hold their meetings at the homes and elders participate in the annual neighborhood Christmas decoration parades.
“Having the eldercare homes in the neighborhood is a way of bringing this way of life into everyone’s lives,” says Klever, who is Charles House’s executive director. “It makes them a part of the community.”
If Charles House sounds like a Green House Project home, it’s not an accident. When the Charles House community set out to develop the eldercare homes in 2006, they wanted Green House homes. But due to the restrictive state regulations at the time, they were unable to license as such.
The homes, which are not licensed as skilled nursing, are considered Family Care Homes under the N.C. code—a category that allowed only six residents at a time.
Courting the Neighborhood
When Klever and his colleagues set out to design the homes, their goal was to create the farthest thing from an institution as possible. One unique aspect of the homes’ creation was the association’s commitment to engaging the community in dialogue about its development. “We spent a good part of a year working with the neighborhood answering questions and helping them understand what it was and how it could be part of the community,” he explains. “And they invited us to be part of the neighborhood as an eldercare home.”
Charles House-Yorktown, the first eldercare home to open in 2011, is a renovated 1970s ranch in an established neighborhood, while the second home, Winmore, is a newly constructed home in a new neighborhood, opened in 2014.
Klever emphasizes that they make an effort to “usher people all the way through death, either through in-house care or via hospice.” With nearly 85 percent of the homes’ residents living with some form of dementia, he explains their core values: “resident and family participation in decision making, a team approach to caregiving, and high levels of social and physical engagement for residents.”
“It’s very much related to what Dr. Bill Thomas and [Dr.] Allen Power are talking about when they urge us to get over being afraid of dementia,” Klever adds. “It’s about normalizing it and letting it be a part of who we are as a community and a society, and making it part of our lives.”
Everything is Purposeful
Although the two homes are about five to six miles away from each other, residents from both homes participate in the Charles House day program at the Center for Community Eldercare.
The day program, which is located within a 10-mile radius of the both eldercare homes, was founded in 1990. The Charles House Association serves about 48 people via the day program and the eldercare homes.
Klever notes that all of the Yorktown and Winmore residents were once participants in the day program, which is also a fixture of the community. In fact, community service is part of the Charles House ethos, and it’s apparent in the way in which Klever describes the environment.
“Everything is purposeful,” Klever explains of day program, “either as giving to the community or by learning something everyday. We want to ensure that participants are engaging all of their senses, as much as possible.”
For example, daily topical programs may include discussions about historical figures (last month there was one week devoted to Martin Luther King, Jr., for example). Participants listened to the “I Have a Dream” speech and were encouraged to share their thoughts and reminiscences about Dr. King and that time in history.
Klever describes the environment as a “continuous engagement model, in which participants—from the moment they arrive—are continually supported in their executive functioning to belong to the group, to engage or be engaged, and all care needs are supported in a very normalized manner.”
Community service is integral to the program as well. The 36 or so day participants are divided into smaller groups of 10 to 12 and encouraged to work on a community service project—such as making bookmarks for the local children’s library—as their capabilities allow them, Klever explains.
Charles House Association is a sponsor of the 2016 Age of Disruption Tour, which will make stops in Charlotte and Durham, N.C., on April 20 and 21, respectively.