written by Abby Kilgore and Anna Holland
People of all ages connect through events like charades and bean bag baseball at Harding Place, a Christian retirement community in Searcy, Arkansas. Residents look forward to the unique events that cater to their generation and these events are an opportunity for younger people to get involved in the community by creating lasting friendships.
In 1997 Harding decided to make a positive difference by creating a Christian community for senior citizens, according to Randy Reynolds, the director of Harding Place. Since its beginning, Harding has striven to connect the residents of Harding Place to Harding’s students, according to Reynolds. This is accomplished through events like the annual freshman cookout.
In 2014, Harding Place began bringing food and games to the front lawn for incoming freshmen, as an effort to connect Harding students with the people who work at Harding Place.
“Letting people know we are here starts with students knowing we are here,” Reynolds said. “We do all kinds of activities to create a connection.”
When Harding students want to make a connection with Harding Place, their first contact is with Jeff Kellar, the Harding Place activities director. He started working there in 2012 and said the main goal at Harding Place is to show how residents and students are similar in many ways.
“Beyond the opportunities of filling apartments are the connections between these lovely people who live here and the students,” Kellar said. “There is a revelation where they figure out these people aren’t just sitting around. … They are real people. They have personalities and life experiences they can share. Our residents glean from the students’ energy and spirit and enthusiasm — they love it.”
The most recent project involved making baby blankets for those in the hospital.
“We started the monthly service projects because our residents were serving in their churches their whole lives,” Reynolds said. “Then all of a sudden, they are coming here and are expected to be served. They do not have that expectation.”
Creating volunteer opportunities is one aspect of Reynolds and Kellar incorporating missions into their work, which they said they see as a ministry.
Part of this ministry involves helping residents’ family members during times of grief — something most other independent living establishments do not incorporate, according to Reynolds.
Reynolds said the staff has created lifetime connections with residents’ families by helping them through difficult times. He said it is a bond neither forgets and is a vital part of the ministry at Harding Place.
“I was petrified at first about helping a family walk through a process like losing someone,” Reynolds said. “After you go through that process, it is a connection you have with that family forever.”
Along with close relationships, Reynolds and Kellar said they constantly find new ways to distinguish Harding Place from other independent living communities, such as providing home-cooked meals and partnering with Home Instead Senior Care to give their residents daily medical assistance.
“We try to make tomorrow better than yesterday,” Reynolds said. “This is a ministry of ours, not just a job.”