Kim O’Brien joined United Active Living as president and CEO just seven weeks ago. During that time she has met residents and staff and immersed herself in United’s unique, older adult lifestyle. She describes what is happening at United as “something special”.
“I’ve really been taken by the progressive view of aging that is the basis for everything United does,” said Kim. “Before coming here, I’m sure I had a preconceived idea about what growing older meant and how that affected my own approach to aging, but it’s clear from seeing how active and involved residents are in the programs and activities that age is something to celebrate rather than fight.”
Her view of aging came from a positive experience with her grandparents. Her grandfather recently passed away, and her grandmother lives on her own and remains very active. “I see my grandparents from a different perspective now. Growing up, I didn’t give a second thought to how active they were. But I realize now that staying active was a choice they made. Here’s a good example. It turns out that a good friend of mine has a grandfather who was a resident here. He was very involved in the art studio, and that choice, his family shared with me, added years to his quality of life.”
Kim says that United has achieved a perfect blend of community and individuality. Residents can be as involved as they choose to be, meals are served when its convenient for residents, and programs, activities and outings ensure there is something interesting for everyone. As resident Jim Dolph said after emerging from an exercise class, “There is so much to do here, I can manage only a quarter of what I want to do!”
Kim is well aware of the questions residents and family might ask when a new CEO comes on board. But she is committed to watch, listen and learn, and to build upon what United has already achieved.
“My focus right now is on deepening my understanding of what works and – in some cases – what doesn’t work for staff and residents so that I can see the areas that we can build upon. This is a collaborative effort and I’m eager to hear from residents and staff so we can collectively build an even better community,” she said.
She describes her hiring as putting her in a unique position. She isn’t replacing former president Gail Hinchliffe, but rather continuing to work closely with her as both transition into their new positions. “Bringing in a new CEO usually means the former CEO has left, but in this case, Gail has simply shifted her role. She has been a valuable resource to have at my side. There is a strong foundation that has developed here that we can continue to build on as a team.”
Kim has noticed a strong sense of community when she visits with residents and families. “When people ask what living at United is all about, we invite them to come to see for themselves. There is nothing better than experiencing what happens here for yourself. There is a real sense of vibrancy.”
She points to the lack of imposed structure in how residents live. “Living here doesn’t mean giving up your ability to choose. You can participate in whatever you want. We don’t dictate your meal time, or when to go to the art room.”
She pauses to find the right words, and says, “United’s philosophy and approach to aging is challenging the stereotypes about what growing older means. There is definitely something special here.”
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