February 10, 2023 —By Gary Olin
Kibbutz vs. Cruise Ship
I first heard of comparing senior living communities as either cruise ships or kibbutzes at a Leading Age Conference in Philadelphia in 2018. The cruise ship model was characterized by management driven programming with directors of programming, staff for arts, entertainment, recreation, etc. This model sees the residents as guests or consumers. By contrast, the kibbutz model characterizes communities where residents are more directly engaged in initiating and advancing resident life, through developing and carrying out such programming. In these communities there is the spirit of shared responsible for health and strength of the institution and of each other. In a conversation with Sean Kelly, Kendal Corporation CEO, he told me that maybe as many as 90% of senior living communities trend toward the cruise ship model, leaving only about 10% resembling the kibbutz model. The truth is however, that most senior living communities are found somewhere along the continuum between of these two models.
Kendal at Oberlin’s Ethos Fosters Resident Engagement
Clearly our Kendal at Oberlin is an example of the shared responsibility model. Kendal started by the initiative of those who became the first residents. Since those beginnings, residents have taken seriously the responsibility for planning and carrying out many of the aspects of our community life. There are three resident members of the Board of Directors. The president of our resident association is an ex officio member as well. This kind of resident participation is unthinkable in many other senior facilities. Our strong Kendal at Oberlin Resident Council with nearly one hundred committees, sub-committees, and special purpose groups is testimony to the vitality of our resident driven ethos. Further witness to resident involvement is the collaboration of residents with our administration in the recent development of joint committees, such as Dining Matters, Pet Matters, and the Joint Committee on Technology.
Navigating Transitions in Dining Services
Several residents have used cruise ship – kibbutz comparison to characterize the transitions in our Kendal’s dining, implying that changes in the delivery of our meals represents a move away from our resident engaged ethos. I find no basis for such ideas. The present system of dining is clearly a transitional step, one that has become necessary in light of workforce challenges, COVID protocol issues, and physical constraints. Despite these challenges, this present transitional program provides much of what residents appreciate about our Kendal dining. We have a wide choice of food offerings. We have ample opportunity for connections and experiences of community. Dining in the Fox and Fell gives residents opportunity for lively conversation and interaction. In addition, dining in Langston gives equally engaging experiences. It is true that we no longer stand in line for choosing our own food, a change that is appreciated by many residents.
The introduction of a declining balance program is another positive step toward providing residents a responsible and fair way to make eating choices, as each of us can decide our own food needs. Already many have found this declining balance approach a wise, positive, and financially sensible program.
Residents are Engaged in Future Planning for Dining Services
I am convinced that the future of dining at Kendal of which this present program is a transition, will be even more resident-friendly. It will provide more choices in venues, times, and selection of what and when to eat. While the future is still in the planning stage, the development has and will continue to include resident participation at every step. Residents have been engaged in focus groups. We have completed surveys. Residents in the Stephens Care Center have had opportunities to express their needs and ideas. The Dining Matters Joint Committee has faithfully work for the best outcomes. The twelve-member Master Planning Committee of the Kendal at Oberlin Board of Directors, which includes six residents, continues to be diligent in seeking the best dining options for the future.
It is not surprising that our dining program and its future should be a subject of great concern to Kendal residents. Nor is it surprising that there are a variety of opinions about this subject. However, it is clear that our dining program, presently and for the future, is a positive factor in keeping Kendal at Oberlin a vital community where residents are engaged, sharing significantly in the health and strength of our future.
Gary Olin is a Kendal at Oberlin resident, past president of the Kendal at Oberlin Residents Association and currently serves on the Kendal at Oberlin Board of Directors. He wrote this in August 2021 while the community is adapting to changes in the process and administration of the dining program.