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Building bridges

Women’s retreat at Brooksby focuses on relationships

Created date

February 19th, 2018
Marilyn Dillon (left) and Janet Franz participate in a handwashing activity during Brooksby’s two-day women’s retreat.

Marilyn Dillon (left) and Janet Franz participate in a handwashing activity during Brooksby’s two-day women’s retreat.


Reverend Judith Medeiros, Protestant chaplain at Brooksby Village, recently celebrated her one-year anniversary at the Peabody, Mass., community.

“As I’ve been getting to know our residents, many of them express a desire for deeper friendships,” says Medeiros. “They know a lot of people, but they’re looking for opportunities to develop more intimate friendships.”

After some consideration, Medeiros posed the idea of a two-day women’s retreat, the first of its kind at Brooksby, to Reverend Chad Kidd, pastoral ministries manager.

“Chad liked the idea and gave me the go-ahead,” says Medeiros. “In my experience, when people spend time at a retreat—when they’re in that space together—it creates a sense of safety, allowing people to be authentic with one another.”

Focus on relationships

The retreat, held in the community’s catering room, was open to all women who live at Brooksby.

“I didn’t want the retreat to be a religious event,” says Medeiros. “The focus was on women and relationships. We had 28 women attend the event from all different backgrounds—Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and those without any religious affiliation.”

The theme for the two-day retreat was “Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.”

“Everyday moments can seem ordinary at the time, but looking back, we often see the essence of something extraordinary in those normal, day-to-day moments,” says Medeiros, who structured the retreat to encourage women to venture deeper, one step at a time.

“It’s like going to the ocean,” says Medeiros. “At first you want to stay on the beach and walk in the sand. Then you dip your foot in the water. Then you wade up to your knees. The retreat followed that same order, with each activity drawing the women closer through shared remembrances and experiences.”

Extraordinary women

On the first afternoon of the retreat, the women rotated through five stations, each focused on a different sense or experience—holy water, baking bread, finding their center, making a life list, and prayer or meditation.

Day two began with a journey through Brooksby’s newly dedicated labyrinth and ended with a crowning ceremony, affirming each woman for her wisdom, knowledge, strength, and compassion.

“I didn’t expect the crowning ceremony to be as powerful as it was,” says Medeiros. “You could see each woman’s eyes light up as she was honored. It was such a profound time as the women recognized that they are truly extraordinary.”

Adjusting to change

Like Medeiros, Nancy Nazaroff is relative newcomer to the community. Last May, she moved to Brooksby from New Hampshire with her husband Ed Vaeni.

“Our move happened more quickly than we anticipated because an apartment that we wanted became available,” says Nancy, who worked as a psychotherapist for 36 years.

Both Ed and Nancy were still working when they moved to Brooksby and gradually released their workloads in the months following the move.

“We moved and then retired,” says Nancy. “With so many changes, I felt a little lost. The women’s retreat appealed to me because I needed to feel grounded. I wanted to feel like myself again.”

As a psychotherapist, Nancy says she appreciated the opportunity to participate in an event that encouraged self-awareness and mindfulness.

“At the retreat, I was able to get in touch with myself and my feelings about all the changes that I’d experienced in the past few months,” says Nancy. “It was good. I needed a safe place to do that.”

Nancy also says the retreat opened up new avenues of friendship.

“I connected with some ladies from the retreat in different ways after the event, and those friendships developed much more quickly than I expected,” she says. “Just recently, we spent a Saturday visiting antique stores where they helped me look for items for my apartment. The retreat was a great starting point to build those relationships.”