An Inspiring Collaboration
By Lauren Searson
It is often said that it only takes one person to make a difference. So what happens when four proactive women at the Quadrangle, a continuing care community (CCRC) in Haverford, Pa., come together to help a local charter school and children’s chorus? A collaboration that has not only inspired their peers, but has had positive effects on the surrounding community.
For Joan May and Pat Eames, it all started with a guest speaking engagement at the community over two years ago. John Alston, founder of the Chester Children’s Chorus, spoke about his work with the chorus and the Chester Charter School for Education and the Arts, which incorporates the arts in its curriculum to impact children’s lives.
“He was amazingly exciting to listen to, and I was inspired,” said Joan. “Pat and I were talking after he spoke and thought, ‘Wow, this is something we’d like to help with if there’s any way in which we can.’”
For Joan, helping others is a second nature. Married to an architect, she spent several years at the Department of
Public Assistance in Pennsylvania as a case worker. She later worked at the Department of Public Welfare and Office of Services for the Aging. Through her career, the now great-grandmother had an in-depth look at the Chester school system.
Pat is also no stranger to contributing to her community. Initially starting her career as a union organizer, she became an attorney representing labor unions. She used her experience and knowledge to teach labor and constitutional law at Vanderbilt University, and to later serve as general counsel for Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich.
When eventually researching retirement communities, it was the sense of camaraderie at the Quadrangle that caught Pat’s attention. “It is very much like a residential college with regard to the spirit of community that exists, and the spirit of working together,” she said.
Therefore, it was not surprising that after listening to John, Joan and Pat found like-minded individuals to form a committee and ultimately establish the Chester Project at the Quadrangle.
Among that group are residents Ceil Frey and Barbara Gadegbeku. The community’s collaboration with the school particularly resonated with both women due to their backgrounds in public education. With her doctorate, Barbara taught chemistry in high school and college and ran an engineering company with her husband. When he started experiencing difficulties with his memory, the couple found the CCRC that best worked for them near their children.
“We chose the Quadrangle because we thought it had the most of everything we could possibly want and it was the perfect distance between our two daughters,” said Barbara.
After receiving her doctorate and teaching in Philadelphia and Lower Marion, Ceil decided to spend her early retirement years supervising student teachers and teaching graduate classes in education. As empty nesters, she and her husband knew when it was ultimately time to downsize and, like Joan, had received recommendations from friends already living at the Quadrangle. Since her arrival, she has contributed to the Chester Project by organizing book drives for the school.
“Chester Charter School for Education and the Arts is a notable exception in the Chester Upland School District, and is unique in its method of teaching,” she said.
When the school announced its addition of a ninth grade, they were in further need of books. This time, Ceil reached out to her peers for cash donations and found generous results. “We got over three thousand dollars in donations from people here,” she said. “That says a lot about the people in this community.”
It did not take long after Barbara arrived at the Quadrangle for her to learn about the Chester Project in which she became involved last year. “I was drawn to the program. The chorus was having a summer education program run by Swarthmore College. For the youngest children, those rising to the third grade, the program included a reading section, and so I volunteered to participate in that,” she said.
This past summer, eight residents carpooled four days a week for two weeks to help the children for an hour with their reading. The kids also enjoyed word puzzles and games.
“Being a music lover and singer myself, I was interested in the Chester Children’s Chorus. I went to the holiday concert that was held in December 2014,” said Barbara. “It was a wonderful program filled with a variety of music.”
Other resident involvement has included a “Reading One-on-One” program with kindergarten students at the school, as well as pop-up art shows featuring the children’s work.
“We have this wonderful art from these wonderful kids,” said Pat. “This community was the first venue in which the art show was held; the folks from the school came over and put up works from the students from kindergarten through eighth grade.”
For Joan, it has been a delight seeing the impact of the school and chorus on the children, and knowing the role the residents of the Quadrangle have played. “It gives the kids something to aim for and a sense of self-worth; they love it and they’re good at it,” she said. “We’ve always been very happy that we started it and we find it a very exciting endeavor.”
“We all had tours of the school and were blown away by the love you feel from the teachers and children,” added Ceil.
“The atmosphere there is magical and their scores increase from year to year.”
And while the women and their fellow committee members continue helping the outside community, they know they are at a home where a staff is there to in turn help them. As a CCRC, the Quadrangle provides a range of care services from independent living to nursing and memory care should residents’ health needs change over time. With housekeeping, maintenance, concierge services, transportation and fine dining, the residents are able to enjoy the various activities of their home, whether enjoying a new read in the library or taking a swim in the indoor heated pool. At the Quadrangle, committees, discussion groups and activities are planned and organized by the residents so that everyone’s interests are met.
“There are 87 committees here; we have book, current event, music and other groups. This is an extremely active place,” said Ceil.
It is safe to say that Joan, Pat, Barbara and Ceil, with their engaged and dedicated lifestyles, are perfect representations of their peers and overall community.
“None of the other CCRCs we visited could match the activities and the passion of ideas that were going on here,” said Joan. “It’s a very interesting place to be.”