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Friendly Faces

When seniors relocate to this community, there's someone waiting with a helping hand.

By Debra R. Messick

Photos by Maire Mcardle and Stephen Walker

Left to right: Londonderry ambassadors Pat Lewers, Ralph Alfenito, Josephine Alfenito, and Judy Lutkus with her dog

Moving to a retirement community is more than a brick-and-mortar real estate transaction. For many it marks a major life transition, saying goodbye after spending 60 or 70 years in the same home while embarking on a whole new adventure.

For seniors relocating to Easton’s Londonderry on the Tred Avon Cooperative Community, a unique safety net is in place to help those taking this journey. The Resident Ambassador Program offers an essential lifeline, pairing each new arrival with someone who literally has been there and can help ease the adjustment.

“We started this program so that the new residents would not only have a resident to meet and ask questions, but to show them around, take them to dinner for the first time, and make them feel welcome,” recalled Pat Lewers. A Londonderry resident herself since 2013, Lewers also cared for a senior relative at the community in 2000. In 2014 to 2015, she served on the board when the program, started by Sales and Marketing Director Rachel Smith, began. She became chairperson as well as an ambassador herself.

Most people are eager to learn about how to order food, where to pick up mail and packages, trash collection, housekeeper schedules, turning on the heat and air, and other daily living necessities. But each person’s needs in terms of knowing and connecting are unique, and ambassadors respond accordingly, going the extra mile, Lewers noted. “Many people moving here are also new to Easton, so we help them learn about the town, as well.”

Judy Lutkus has been an ambassador on the receiving and giving end of the program. She and her husband had been ill and “there was a point where I just had to decide that I could no longer stay in my own home,” Lutkus recalled.

Erica Hardeo, staff activities coordinator

“The ambassador I was assigned was warm and welcoming. Before I even moved in, she called and took me to lunch. When I was here, she walked me through all the important little things you need to know — where to put the garbage, when the housekeepers are coming to clean. She made a real effort to introduce me to people, particularly in the dining room, and I adjusted really well,” Lutkus added.

After becoming an ambassador, she found that while one couple appreciated learning about the basics but were comfortable introducing themselves to people on their own, another acclimating resident had plenty of questions and appreciated more contact.

Pat Lewers showing the new iPad system

“The program reflects the care and warmth you receive moving to Londonderry. The staff recognize that you don’t just buy your cottage and then, ‘plunk,’ you land. There’s a support system,” she mentioned.

Last year’s COVID pandemic protocols led to Staff Activities Coordinator Erica Hardeo stepping in as central “point person.” She was basically each new resident’s initial contact — introducing the community’s overall operations and answering questions about daily living in addition to delivering 200 meals daily. After meeting with each new resident, she selects a current

When Mrs. Jo Alfenito and husband Dr. Ralph moved to Londonderry two years ago, a friendly ambassador couple arrived at their door with welcoming smiles, filling them in on “all the nitty gritty” basics and planning to meet again. When the Alfenitos became ambassadors last year, COVID necessitated a car window greeting but the outreach was equally warm and friendly.

A meet and greet gathering in the lobby

With vaccinations increasing and life beginning to open back up, both Lewers and Hardeo look forward to providing welcoming coffees and dinners again. Both are excited about the new CATIE Ipad system which went online April 1, 2021. Specifically designed to be user friendly for seniors, CATIE enables residents to check the activities calendar and order meals, as well as send email and connect with family members.

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