A Shared Mission Helps Transform and Renew a Community
The press release started with a simple fact: “Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey (LSMNJ) and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth announce a transfer in ownership of St. Anne Villa from the Sisters of Charity to LSMNJ...”
Yet the fact was, there was so much more.
“Being there for those in need or with limited choices,” says LSMNJ President & CEO, Colleen Frankenfield, “that’s in our DNA, and the Sister’s, too. It’s a big reason that our purchase came together so well, and why we look forward to building a mutual community as we move ahead.”
The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth are smart, savvy women, and their work in education and healthcare has benefitted many people. So they could see the numbers as plainly as anyone else. As their congregation aged, the Sisters could tell that for them, maintaining Saint Anne Villa as their retirement home was not sustainable.
So through a careful, two-year process of examining numbers, discerning attitudes and lots of prayer, they decided to make a mindful change. On October 1, 2016, St. Anne Villa became The Villa at Florham Park as part of the LSMNJ family.
“We were all so pleased that the mission of LSMNJ is so aligned with the mission of the Sisters of Charity,” points out Sister Elizabeth Kremp, assistant chaplain.
Still, bringing two communities together is never easy. “One of our first priorities, “notes Elizabeth (Beth) Sparling), senior vice president and COO for LSMNJ,” as our team planned for this purchase and transfer, was to ensure that the resident Sisters would be comfortable with us. Another was opening this wonderful facility and services to a wider and public audience. There is so much here to benefit the community-at-large—and that’s a goal LSMNJ and the Sisters of Charity have always had in common.”
Staff that Cares
In any transition, there’s change and some uncertainty. Yet, whatever the signs say—Saint Anne Villa or The Villa at Florham Park—or whatever the mission states, a thriving community can’t come together if the staff isn’t right. That meant blending many of the former Saint Anne staff with the right, newly hired additions, all under an experienced LSMNJ management team.
For Housekeeper Rosa Hernandez, the transition was more than a change of employer. “My husband works at the Sister’s Mother House, across the road,” she says. “I see the Sisters like family. The transition was a little hard for some of them, and even for me. When someone new comes in, you don’t know what to expect.” But she doesn’t see leaving. “I like it here.”
Newly hired LPN (licensed practical nurse) Yvette Rabago knows a good thing when she sees it. “This is a totally different kind of living and care program,” she says, comparing it to other places she worked. “I’m able to give a quality of care that patients need. When I go home, I know I did my best.”
Hired a few weeks before the transition, Dan Sturm, director of maintenance, started work at The Villa on October 1. “I really liked what I was hearing before I came on board,” he says. “And it has turned out well. I see a different level of respect and caring here than other places like it. I go home and say ‘guess what happened today!’ Before coming to the Villa, I came home a lot more stressed. I wanted to forget about work.”
Niara Osman, The Villa’s dietitian, also joined after the transition. As a young, Muslim woman, she’s found working for a Lutheran organization, with many Catholic Sisters among the residents, a great experience. “People here are so accepting,” she says. “They’re curious about my faith and share their own experiences.” But she also knows that she influences an important part of everyone’s day, regardless of their faith or other interests: their food! “Every week we talk about the menu,” she smiles. “I need to know about each resident’s food preferences and dietary needs. The right food can make everyone’s day.”
That priority is reflected in the level of pastoral care, too. For nearly seven years Sister Elizabeth Kremp ministered to the faith needs of her Sisters residing at Saint Anne Villa, and now she assists Chaplain Rick Vossler in doing the same for all residents of The Villa. “The transition was both exciting and challenging for us,” she reports. “There has been grieving for the loss of ‘our’ Villa, but also peace in knowing that our sisters will continue to receive care—and that they can remain together.”
Though new to The Villa, Pastor Rick also serves a local Lutheran congregation, in addition to his “on call” status at St. Barnabas Medical Center. From the start, his focus was to help Sisters adjust in the transition, finding common ground. He considers everyone at The Villa as part of his flock, regardless of faith or personal beliefs. “When you’re a chaplain, you leave your denomination at the door.” And he sees the diversity in spirituality continuing to expand as the residents’ change, and more lay people select The Villa as their choice living and care community.
The Residents We Serve
One of the biggest changes for this 80 bed skilled nursing, 21 unit assisted living program with room to grow is that it’s doors are now open to serve the public. For the original resident Sisters, this has meant getting used to lay people among them. Margaret Davey, The Villa’s social worker, has seen positive growth. “The Sisters are very mission driven.” She says. “They go out of their way to welcome everyone–new residents, their families, and visitors.”
Then there was the introduction of lay people living in what had been a community exclusively made up of religious women. And soon, The Villa was welcoming men as residents. The first arrived in November— on a short-term, rehabilitation basis at first, and now some as long-term residents.
Among the first was Bill Space. “When dad first got out of the hospital, we asked about The Villa,” his daughter Susan Bauer says. “My father’s sister (Dr. Mary Space) used to work at the College of Saint Elizabeth, so we knew the Sisters of Charity. It was before the sale to LSMNJ, and he had to go somewhere else. We’re so glad that changed.” Susan’s grateful for the level of care her dad’s getting, and for her own peace of mind. “Having him here’s a big weight off my shoulders. I’m relaxed when I walk in. The people are friendly and kind. The place is immaculate and homey. It couldn’t be nicer.”
The Facility is Key
Starting with their first tour, leadership within LSMNJ recognized that this is a special, really one-of-a-kind facility exemplified by its serene surroundings and spirit. The gothic design, natural wood, and some very unique spaces create an environment for residents of beauty as well as comfort and function.
“It’s a beautiful facility,” Beth points out. “The gothic design elements, natural wood trim, and a number of very interesting spaces, like the chapel, the dining room, the community room, and our lovely courtyard. The buildings were well maintained, yet like any older structures, they have their own personalities. And, there’s opportunity for future expansion.“
LSMNJ is committed to keeping the character of the beautiful, historic design, providing the amenities of modern life-care facility, and all-the-while supporting the daily needs of a diverse resident population. Maintaining that balance is no easy task, but Dan knows his, and the Villa’s priorities, line up perfectly. “From day one I was told that our first priority is the residents,” Dan tells us. “That’s mine, too.”
It All Adds up to Community
“The Villa at Florham Park isn’t really a new community, after all it’s been here for almost 90 years. We think of it as a renewed community,” Colleen reflects. “The heritage of the former Saint Anne Villa is something we want to honor through our expanded service to the public. Everyone—from residents to staff to administration--is committed to finding the right balance between retaining the best of the past while embracing the best of change.”
Mission, staff, facility, and residents we serve…. They all come together to create a vibrant, growing community. People often say it takes a village, at The Villa we believe it takes a community.