Powered by Connection: Front Porch communities building communities

Every May, the Administration for Community Living leads the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month (OAM). The 2024 theme is Powered by Connection, which recognizes the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being.

Every Tuesday at Walnut Village, a Front Porch community in Anaheim, a group of residents gather to make quilts and prayer shawls. Using materials and funds donated by residents and by Walnut Village, the residents divide up tasks, stitching together quilts and shawls to provide warmth and comfort to people in hospice, hospitals, women’s shelters and more.

Two older women stand smiling behind a pile of hand-made quilts

Residents Bonnie Violette and Katherine Green coordinate the process, with Violette storing the quilts in her apartment while Green contacts various agencies for pick-up. The quilting group has distributed more than 200 3-by-4-foot quilts since it started in January 2023 shortly after the COVID lockdown lifted.

Creating the quilts “gives us a purpose,” said Violette. “This quilting gives me free rein to make quilts as I enjoy doing, except on a smaller scale. If my quilts give comfort and enjoyment to the people who receive them, it pleases and blesses me.”

Walnut Village’s resident-driven quilting program is just one example of how Front Porch communities stay connected to the greater community in which they are located, making them better places for everyone. Since each residential community has a significant impact on its location, including providing jobs and supporting local businesses, Front Porch communities are attuned to the importance of being a good neighbor. 

Carlsbad By The Sea actively works to build those connections with the village of Carlsbad, assuring that the partnerships are positive and mutually beneficial. “We’re in the heart of the village of Carlsbad,” said Haley DiDonato, Life Enrichment Director. “Obviously, Carlsbad By The Sea is a huge organization here. We go to the Carlsbad Village Association meetings, where all the businesses come together on a consistent basis and talk about relevant topics that affect the village.” Participating in the Carlsbad Village Association helps Carlsbad By The Sea stay connected and attuned to the needs and concerns around them.

One of the connections Carlsbad By The Sea built through this association is with the New Village Arts Theater. People from the Theater come to the community on a monthly basis and offer a film group talk with the residents; residents attend plays; and Carlsbad By the Sea sponsors the Theater’s annual gala fundraiser. 

Residents are also deeply involved in the greater community as individual volunteers or through programs such as the Men’s Shed. The idea of the Men’s Shed was first developed in Australia as a way for men to connect with one another through working together on projects, and DiDonato decided to launch one in Carlsbad in 2023. The group is open to both residents and members of the wider community.

“Every Men’s Shed group does different things,” DiDonato explained. “The men that have been in our Carlsbad group have been really volunteer focused. They want to help the community as opposed to go fishing and have barbecues.” To date, the Carlsbad Men’s Shed has been involved in projects such as assembling bikes for the Boys and Girls club, building props and sets for the Village Arts Theater, and constructing a literal shed for the raptors at the Agua Hedionda Discovery Center.

Whether on an individual or organizational level, connection is key. “Having this big network leads to a lot of different volunteer opportunities for residents to partake in. And it comes back to us, too, in different ways,” said DiDonato.

“We want the city to thrive,” said Carlsbad By The Sea Executive Director Paula Digerness. “We want them to do well, and they want us to do well.” Taking part in the Carlsbad Village Association and community events changes the perception of the residential community. Rather than being seen as an antagonistic presence, “the mentality the other businesses now have of us is more like we’re rooting for them,” Digerness said.

Ryan Golze, Executive Director of Sunny View in Cupertino, is taking a hands-on role in connecting with the business community. “When I joined Sunny View back in October, I wanted to get involved as a community leader. I reached out to our local Chamber of Commerce here in in Cupertino and set up a meeting with the CEO,” Ryan said. He asked about serving on their board of directors, expecting to be a regular member. Instead, he is now serving on their Executive Committee as their Vice President of Finance. As part of the leadership succession plan, he anticipates being the president of the board in a few years’ time.

Golze explained that the Chamber of Commerce supports Cupertino businesses of all sizes, ranging from Apple which has its headquarters there, all the way to the smallest coffee cart. Although Sunny View is not the only senior community involved with the Chamber of Commerce, “We’re one of three senior communities that are part of the Chamber, but we are by and large the only one that actually participates,” said Golze. “I do think that signifies our commitment to the community, and also the greater area.”

Serving on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors gives Sunny View an opportunity to give back, according to Golze. No matter what business people are in, “We’re all aging in place. And we’re all dealing with the same challenges. But the sense of community, the sense of socialization being part of something bigger than oneself, I think it pays dividends.”