The various properties of Presbyterian Homes are places you don’t have to visit to get a feel for, with an online virtual tour just a click away.
Cybervisitors get led through dining rooms, atriums, lounges, a cafe, fitness center, cinema and chapel. When the short video was done, it was difficult to even remember any images of private rooms.
With a pandemic now underway, it’s tempting to see a terrible vulnerability in senior-care centers like those in Presbyterian Homes. And not just in those places but also in offices or on a bus or in a church or a stadium.
In fact the COVID-19 pandemic goes right after one of our great strengths — genuine, face-to-face and know-each-other communities.
There’s a danger that people might take a lesson from the pandemic experience that it’s better to retreat from each other, that private spaces are much safer. Working from home on video forever? That would cost us.
We are going to have to work to maintain those communities as best we can through the pandemic.
When you think about it, the supportive communities of elder-care centers can be thought of as a metaphor for healthy neighborhoods, towns, cities and workplaces.
In a senior-care center, “the opportunity for our residents to be in relationship with others is vitally important,” said the Rev. John Goertz, campus pastor at Presbyterian Homes & Services. “They are not left isolated in their home. There are other residents and certainly staff in tune with them, and want to support them at this point in their lives.”
Maybe there are other definitions, but one thing that seems to define community is really knowing that people care about you as a person and in turn you care about them. You can be around other people and still not be part of one, of course, so the care center staff works at it, including what Goertz called “becoming known to others.”
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic demands social distancing practices, the message to residents isn’t just that these practices are critical to keep them safer, but also to keep their friends, neighbors and the staffers who take care of them safer, too.
Goertz described some of the ways Presbyterian Homes is trying to support residents while maintaining strict distancing.
One asset is a center’s own TV channel, for example. The thing that made its video church service work last Sunday, Goertz explained, was that his residents weren’t watching a TV show but their familiar pastor in their familiar place. Goertz encouraged them to heartily sing while watching in their rooms.
This kind of practice to use video tools looks a little like what’s being tried by the co-working spaces to keep their communities healthy now, too, like a pay-what-you-can virtual membership launched by the Coven. Its two co-working sites in the Twin Cities had to temporarily close.
It doesn’t seem at all silly to compare an elder-care center to a co-working space filled with millennial freelancers, software coders and startup founders. The big idea in both businesses is to create a sense of community.
One of the first and best-known co-working spaces in Minnesota is now called Fueled Collective, and it temporarily closed locations, too, well before the governor’s stay-at-home order.
This co-working company got going more than 10 years ago. Co-founder Don Ball, as a freelancer even years before, had longed to work in such a place.
Once it opened, Ball and the other founders knew they were in the belonging business, not the workspace rental business. They saw unofficial groups form, not because members were working on the same problems but because they had become friends, leaning on each other as they got their own work done.
“If you have to come up with everything from your own head, at least for me in my experience, you kind of come up short,” Ball said this week.
He’s basically talking about one of the main ways a metro economy stays healthy and grows faster, what happens when you bring people together. It leads to the movement of ideas and knowledge between people that helps a whole region do better.
There are lots of different ways this can happen, including just from people taking a job at a new employer, but what stands out about these busy co-working spaces is that you could simply sit quietly and watch the transmissions happen.
That’s why these places boomed, not for their funky furniture, fast Wi-Fi internet service and cold beer.
Earlier this week, Reed Robinson, a co-founder of tech startup group Beta.MN, collected and forwarded a few stories of founders who think they wouldn’t have gotten where they are without informal help or chance encounters in common workplaces — introductions to technology designers, maybe, or to early sponsors for events.
One of those who responded was Sean Higgins, CEO of a St. Paul-based startup that created the BetterYou digital coach that helps people work on the things they had said they want to do, in part by reminding users to cut down mindless time-wasting on smartphones.
An impromptu conversation in the lobby of their St. Paul building, Higgins explained, led to an introduction to two people who then invested in the company.
“Those seemingly random positive interactions happen more and more when you’re in the right place,” Higgins wrote, “something you just can’t find on a Zoom link.”