Ashburn, Virginia--Over the last twenty years, Raoul Drapeau and his friends Kirk DeNee and Cheryl Graczyk, all members of a Northern Virginia Midweek Hikers group, logged thousands of miles hiking together in the Shenandoah mountains.
"The best part of our hikes are the conversations," says Raoul. "Over the years, my wife Connie and I became close friends with Kirk and Cheryl."
In September 2015, Raoul and Connie moved to Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living-managed community in Ashburn, Va. Coming from Vienna, Va., the couple was determined to blend their current activities with new adventures. Raoul continued to meet Kirk and Cheryl for their weekly hikes.
"It was on these hikes that we would discuss our new life at Ashby Ponds," says Raoul. "They asked me what it was like and why we chose to move when we did. I told them that we no longer wanted to worry about maintaining a house, we wanted options for new adventures, and we wanted to know we were safe and well cared for."
These reasons resonated with Cheryl and Kirk. "It was a conversation that was new for us," says Cheryl. "We hadn't thought about moving. Kirk and I lived in our house for over 30 years. We originally thought about moving to a 55-plus community but then realized we didn't want to pack up and move again in a few years. So, we took advantage of our time hiking together to pick Raoul's brain about Ashby Ponds."
Seeing is believing
Following several conversations about life at Ashby Ponds, Kirk and Cheryl visited the Drapeaus in their new home.
"We were putting together a slideshow from our trips to Iceland," says Cheryl. "It was our first opportunity to see their apartment. We knew immediately that Ashby Ponds was more in tune with our needs. It was evident that it is a dynamic place to live. It felt like a condo where someone wants to feed you! We witnessed firsthand what a nice, comfortable place it is to live."
Shortly after the couple's visit to Ashby Ponds, they met with a financial advisor to discuss the intricacies of a move.
"What struck me most at that meeting had nothing to do with finances," says Cheryl. "He asked—if you're not ready today, where would you want to live should someone have to make the decision for you? That stayed with me."
Conversations between the couples continued and it was quickly obvious to Kirk and Cheryl that Ashby Ponds was their top choice.
"Our next question was, 'Where will we land; what will we do?'" says Cheryl. "Witnessing Raoul and Connie's active lifestyle illustrated that we would not be struggling to find activities."
"I think sharing and learning from those you have a relationship with is a real benefit," says Raoul. "It guides you in providing them with information specific to their needs. It helps answer the question of what might I do when I'm there."
In recognition of the large number of residents like the Drapeaus, who share their love of Ashby Ponds with friends, the community created a resident referral program in support of these efforts.
"We love encouraging our residents to share their new lives with friends and family," says Director of Sales Holly Henderson. "While our resident referral program is not the reason why our residents encourage their loved ones to consider Ashby Ponds, it is our way of thanking them for doing so."
Enjoying life together
Since Kirk and Cheryl's move to Ashby Ponds, the couples enjoy dining together and hiking, while also continuing to busy themselves with their own activities.
Earlier in the year, Kirk and Raoul started a hiking club for their fellow community members.
"We lead separate lives with separate interests but are able to come together much more easily than before their move," says Connie.
Even with safety precautions in place as a result of the pandemic, the couples have found ways to stay connected.
"Living at Ashby Ponds during the pandemic reinforces to us that moving to Ashby Ponds was the best decision we ever made," says Cheryl. "I don't know how we'd be doing in our house. No one would be taking care of our needs. I'd be shopping and cooking all the time. I'm very fortunate. Kirk and I spend this time in our home relaxing and take a walk outside each day. It's been nice."
In addition, the friends meet for coffee and conversation and recently began hiking together again.
"We travel in our own cars and maintain an appropriate social distance," says Raoul. "It's so nice to know your friends are enjoying the safe, wonderful life you enjoy. Connie and I continue to share our experience with friends. Several have moved while others are making plans."
"It's just natural," says Connie. "If you're happy where you are, then you let other people know that, not just with your words but with your whole demeanor."
Written by Kelly A. Shue
About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia. The not-for-profit community of more than 1,650 residents and 550 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, Inc., who provide independent financial and operational oversight of Ashby Ponds. Additional information can be found at AshbyPonds.com.