Forming Strong Community Ties
Joan Orso is no stranger to community. Looking back at the past years of her life, she readily admits that community has played a very important role for her. Her most recent experience with community is at Augsburg Lutheran Village, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Baltimore County, where she lives today as a very active community member. The way she arrived at this community is an interesting journey.
As a life-long Christian educator and the wife of a Lutheran Bishop, Mrs. Orso has been an integral part of numerous communities. While working in his office, Joan met Rev. Orso, who was widowed. Becoming a part of a community of two was a decision she labored over. She remembers, “He really wanted to get married, but I was in my late 40s and divorced, and I just didn’t like the idea. He honestly convinced me; he had such a pure soul and was such a wonderful man that I finally decided I did want to be married”.
The couple quickly became a vital part of the Lutheran community in Maryland. As a Bishop, Dr. Orso supervised 176 Maryland congregations and their pastors. “The job involved a lot of management-but also a lot of traveling and attending celebrations. We got to do so many fun things with different congregations. We attended countless weddings, ordination ceremonies, and all types of parties. That was always the fun part,” says Mrs. Orso.
Though celebrating with different communities was great fun, Mrs. Orso appreciates even more the comfort she now receives from strangers who approach her to tell her about the affect that she and her husband had on their lives. Whether they were married or ordained by Paul or received their child through the adoption agency he helped to found, their praise means a lot to Joan-who while still coping with her husband’s death relishes hearing about the “positive force” he had in the community.
The Orsos had always planned to move to a retirement community when the time came, so when Paul’s health began to fail, they knew it was time to start looking. When they visited Augsburg Lutheran Village for a tour, what they thought would be a hard decision was suddenly made easy: “Nothing else ever compared to the first apartment we saw at Augsburg. We did look at several other places, but nothing came close to the affordability and wonderful, spacious apartments offered here,” relates Joan.
After settling into their new apartment, Joan and Paul were continually impressed by the level of service offered in their new community. As Paul’s illness worsened, the peace of mind and security that Augsburg provided became more and more apparent to Joan. She recalls, “We moved here so that I would have the support I needed to care for Paul. I didn’t want to be isolated if we became housebound. The situation worked out so well! It was very nice to still be able to interact with others, while having the honor to care for him in our own apartment.” Paul was able to remain in the couple’s apartment under Joan’s care until he passed away.
“When Paul died, several people here asked me if I was planning to stay, and I was quick to say ‘Oh, Yes!’ I would not think of leaving; these people are my family, and this is my home,” attests Mrs. Orso, who is one of the Village’s youngest residents.
Given her first-hand experience with the importance of quality care, Mrs. Orso is baffled by the “stigma some people attach to retirement communities.” She explains, “People say that they don’t want to go to a retirement community to die, but they don’t realize these communities aren’t about that; they are about living. The focus is on being more independent than you could be otherwise because you don’t have to worry about replacing the roof, mowing the yard, or cleaning the windows.”
Mrs. Orso certainly takes full advantage of the time she would have spent doing household chores. A true philanthropist, she spends her leisure time working in the community. At Augsburg, she works with the Women’s Auxiliary, raising money for community projects. She also pushes the “Candy Cart.” Joan glows as she talks about taking the cart through the hallways in the Assisted Living wing: “It’s really a smiling job, so many people look forward to chatting with me-some buy candy, some don’t-but everyone likes the visits.”
Joan also represents her fellow residents as a member of the Board of Directors. Outside of the Augsburg community, she enjoys her church community, and the communities she finds with her children, grandchildren, and friends.
Having decided to take full advantage of the community she found at Augsburg, Joan is now carefully planning her future. Aware that Augsburg is planning an expansion and having decided that the apartment she shared with her husband was simply too big, she has opted to move to one of the new one-bedroom apartments with a den that Augsburg is planning for 2005. In that apartment, she will still be able to take full advantage of her youth and independence, do the traveling she likes so much, and still be available to help others on a daily basis.
The expansion, which may be ready as early as the end of 2005, has others excited too: “We are quite excited about the plans to add forty-two new apartments to our community. Even with this addition, we will still be the smallest accredited continuing care retirement community in the area, and we are proud of the family atmosphere we have always been able to sustain. We look forward to the new Town Center, which will be the centerpiece of this project and will include a Café for casual dining along with a Wellness Suite, Beauty Parlor, Store, and enlarged Community Room with a dedicated craft area.” explains Clare Workneh, the Director of Marketing for the Village.
Augsburg has been serving the greater Baltimore community for more than 112 years. Their priority has always been providing an affordable, faith-based community for the elderly. Keeping the community small, so that a real family atmosphere is possible, has also been important. With that in mind, the expansion has been designed to provide new amenities, add apartments, and still retain the sense of community that Mrs. Orso has found so valuable.
Watching her new community grow, Joan realizes how many opportunities are afforded to her at Augsburg. “I am certainly still very independent, and I can leave campus whenever I want, but I also have the opportunity to enjoy myself right here. There is so much to do here, and I know that everything I could ever want will be here if I need it,” she says.
A naturally gregarious person, Joan has spent her life celebrating with countless soon-to-be married couples, new parents, and recently ordained ministers. Still, it was only when faced with important retirement living decisions that she fully realized how important a sense of community was to her.
She concludes, “It was only after we moved to the Village that I realized how important community was to me. I’ve always been incredibly social, and I’ve always been surrounded by people, so it was really frightening for me to think about potentially being isolated while caring for Paul. Everyone here is so friendly; there is really a sense of family here, and I’ve never felt alone.”
For Joan, retirement living at Augsburg has provided her with the opportunity to be an active member of a caring community. As this community grows, with the planned expansion in 2005, she looks forward to welcoming new members to the community and is glad that her choice has helped her continue to form new relationships that have added to her own sense of self and well-being.