A Retirement That is More Than O.K.

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elder woman with elder law experienceTwo signs hang outside Mrs. Sadie Hofstein’s apartment in Martin’s Run, a continuing care retirement community in Media, PA. One cheerfully announces, “I’m O.K.,” while the other is a more distinguished plaque engraved with “Hofstein House.” Both say a lot about Mrs. Hofstein’s personality, her past, and her future.

“I always knew I was going to be in some kind of helping profession.” This is how Mrs. Hofstein explains her work as the administrator of the first apartment house for mentally ill adults on Long Island. The aptly named Hofstein House is still in operation today. Hofstein House provides independent apartments to 50 mentally ill adults, allowing them to retain their independence while providing them with the convenience of a social worker on-site, who offers counseling and assistance with locating a job.

Establishing and operating this facility wasn’t Mrs. Hofstein’s first stint with serving the needy though; she left her home in London to become a part of a Jewish relief unit in Europe during WW II. After a training program, she spent two years in Europe: “We were sent to Europe where we went through Holland. We got to Rotterdam the day it was liberated and we worked in Rotterdam for a while and then we went to Bergen-Belsoen when it was liberated. I was the child welfare officer in charge of all the children in the camp. This involved taking care of 83 children from the concentrations camps, who were all orphans.” While her work in Europe was emotionally challenging, it was certainly rewarding to help these children who so desperately needed her. However, one of the most unexpected rewards of her time in Europe was the opportunity to meet her future husband, an American solider from New York.

At the end of the war, Mrs. Hofstein returned to the states with her husband and started a daycare center in Brooklyn, where she worked until she became the Mental Health Association Director in Nassau, a job she held for 25 years. She retired from the position, and left her work at Hofstein house 3 years ago at the age of 77, but she still visits frequently and is continually involved in the operation of the facility. Of the challenging nature of her work, Mrs. Hofstein relates, “We were responsible for several hundred mentally ill adults, which can certainly be stressful. But it’s work that needs to be done, so you do it; at the time you don’t think about the stress of it. I loved my work, and I missed it for a time when I retired.”

Mrs. Hofstein quickly learned that retirement would offer much-deserved opportunities to relax and enjoy herself. After initially looking into a facility in Long Island, Mrs. Hofstein really began to enjoy the idea of living in a retirement community: “I got caught up in the idea of not having to cook and clean. If you’re still able-bodied, and my husband and I were at the time, it’s easy to want to stay in your own home, but I think it’s important for people to look ahead and realize there’s going to come a time when they don’t want to cook anymore. The idea of going shopping or making dinner every night absolutely appalls me now.”

When Sadie and her husband discussed their potential move with their son, he suggested that they move to a life-care community in the Philadelphia area, so they would be closer to him. Although the couple initially resisted the idea, they visited communities in Philadelphia and liked Martins Run so much that they decided to make the move. For the Hofsteins, Martins Run really met all their criteria: “We wanted to be in a Jewish community, and this is, but it was really the sense of warmth we got from the people that convinced us this was the right place. There’s no question that the people who work here are warm and friendly, but it is essentially the other residents, who were so welcoming.”

In fact, the “O.K.” sign outside her door is a program that was devised by, and is entirely operated by, residents. Mrs. Hofstein explains, “You put out the sign anytime after 4 o’clock in the morning and one person on each corridor is responsible for picking up those signs and putting them back on your door. If they don’t see the signs, they call you or knock on your door. If there’s no reply, they will call the central office. They’ve found people who have fallen in the middle of the night. It’s a very useful system.” It also is a clear demonstration of the compassionate, communal atmosphere at Martins Run.

It is the benevolent conduct of the other residents that has helped Mrs. Hofstein through the past year. Unfortunately, a short time after their move, Mrs. Hofstein’s husband became ill and died suddenly. Throughout this challenging time, Mrs. Hofstein has managed to keep a positive attitude, partially due to the support she receives from other community members: “Considering my husband died relatively suddenly, it should have been a terrible year, but it hasn’t been. I mean, I have made friends here. The environment is conducive to making friends; there’s no question about that.”

Mrs. Hofstein and the other residents are able to easily make new friends because of the variety of programs offered at the community. She relates that she has always been a “participator:” “I go to many things. I like the music programs here, as well as the writing class. I also go line dancing. Of course, there are always community outings too-to the opera or the theater. This is an active place.” For a woman who has worked so hard, this stress-free lifestyle is still a novelty. “I only have to get up in the morning and say, ‘what shall I do today to amuse myself?,’ relates Mrs. Hofstein. Secure in the fact that she will be provided for should a need for care arise, Mrs. Hofstein is free to fully enjoy herself.

After providing for so many others in need, Sadie has finally settled into the new-found role of care recipient, one which she fits her quite nicely. In fact, she strongly recommends that others follow in her footsteps: “I’ve talked to a number of would-be residents who are my age and older and they’re always not ready. The truth is most of them are over-ripe. I often think people do leave their homes too late. It’s best if you come to a facility when you’re still able to enjoy what all it has to offer.” Not only did her move prove to be terrific decision for herself but also for her children. She admits, “Martins Run is great because I am not totally dependent on my son. That works for him too. I like that aspect of it. There’s a good feeling about not having to be dependent on your children.”

After devoting so much of her life to social and volunteer work, Mrs. Hofstein has been thrilled with the opportunity to make new friends and expand her busy social schedule at Martins Run. “You will find that the folks my age who live on the outside often have limited social lives. Once people make the move, very few of them are sorry. The bottom line for most people is: will they make friends here? The rest of it’s all garbage. It doesn’t matter really–the food, the housekeeping, etc. — it’s are you able to form relationships here. For most, the answer is ‘yes.'” Mrs. Hofstein has certainly developed strong bonds with her fellow residents and her social calendar is booked for weeks in advance, with classes, outings, discussion groups, and card games.

As the sign outside her door relates Mrs. Hofstein is certainly ‘o.k.,’ in fact she is flourishing in her new home, which has become a place to relax and reward herself for a lifetime of hard work and good deeds, a legacy which is represented by the nearby Hofstein House plaque.

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