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Giving back

Ann’s Choice volunteers find many ways to help others

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March 20th, 2012
Ann s Choice, the Erickson Living community in Bucks County, Pa., is home to 2,200 active, engaged adults, many of whom generously share their time and talents as volunteers, both inside and outside of their community. Residents tell me that they feel blessed to be here, says Philanthropy Director Susan Abtouche. And many struggled in the beginning of their lives so they say they want to give back. At least 700 community members log their hours with the Philanthropy Department, but Abtouche says that number is low many don t even track their hours.

Variety of opportunities

Some 200 residents who volunteer on campus through Helping Hands do things like bring the mail to neighbors feeling under the weather. Abington Hospital and local elementary schools are popular off-campus commitments. Philanthropy Coordinator Michelle Yencha heads the new-volunteer orientation program at Ann s Choice. Opportunities abound for one-on-one volunteering, group efforts, and one-time commitments. Last December s annual one-shot Gift Wrapping Extravaganza drew 200 residents who cheered competitors in contests like most creative wrapper and fastest fingers. All told, they wrapped 600 children s gifts for three nonprofit agencies to distribute.

Partnering for a purpose

When residents asked for more off-campus connections, Ann s Choice partnered with Bucks County s Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Every month an RSVP coordinator comes to campus to match interested volunteers with any of the 50 local nonprofits in its network. Joan Gold s perfect match is Family Friends, which serves children with special needs. After completing a training program four years ago, she began mentoring nine-year-old Jerome Andrews. He s autistic but very verbal. They get together every few weeks. Early on, Joan called him her little friend. Now he towers over her. Because Jerome has a passion for trains, Joan joined the Ann s Choice model railroad club, an indoor walk away from her two-bedroom Jackson-style apartment home. The club s multi-train display in Village Clubhouse is their favorite inclement-weather destination. On nice days Joan and Jerome visit area parks or take the train into Philadelphia for lunch and sightseeing. They ve also ridden the Philly Phlash bus and watched boats on the river. I thought volunteering this way would be interesting, says Joan. What keeps me doing it is my fondness for this young man.

Homegrown food for friends

An event last month marked the 3,000th meal donated and the one-year anniversary of Food for Friends, a program that donates meals from Ann s Choice restaurants to three YWCA food pantries. People in need can enjoy the same delicious food served at Ann s Choice, and any unserved evening meals don t go to waste. New Jersey transplants Judi and Earl Reeder, who live in a deluxe two-bedroom Lancaster-style apartment home at Ann s Choice, started a similar program a few years ago. When it ended, Dining Services Director Christopher Babst asked Abtouche s help to start a new one. Twice a month, two residents pick up meals from Liberty Commons Clubhouse and deliver them to a food pantry. YWCA volunteers deliver meals from Village and Keystone Clubhouses. We now average about 50 meals for each pickup in each location, says Babst. Because four couples, including the Reeders, alternate deliveries, It s an easy job, says Judi. Part of the reason we do this is that somebody asked us. Both of us are blessed. We have whatever we need.

Desire to Serve

Director of Philanthropy Susan Abtouche received the Ann's Choice 2011 Erickson Living Leadership Award last December, in Baltimore, MD, the company's corporate headquarters. Recipients are recognized for living the company's mission to serve. "It's such an honor because staff members nominate you based on input from residents," says Abtouche. She oversees the volunteer program at Ann's Choice. "When I read what residents wrote in their nomination letter," she says, "I thought, wow, I'm the person who asks them to give. Then I realized I provide opportunities for them to make a difference in people's lives. That's what volunteering is." The award has made Abtouche more aware of their strengths. "I've built a culture of philanthropy because residents feel good about giving, " she says. "They feel valued. And that's the reward that matters most."

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