Community Volunteering & Vitality Go Hand-in-hand

Heron’s Key Resident Weighs in . . .

Heron’s Key resident Sue Engen, and many of her neighbors and friends, can be counted among the more than 25% of seniors 55 and older who volunteer within their communities. According to data collected by the Corporation for National and Community Service, this remarkable demographic contributes more than three billion hours of service in their communities annually.

But far more than mere statistics, Sue and her friends are blazing trails in supporting the home they love and strengthening the bonds of community within Heron’s Key. This is their story—through Sue’s eyes. You’ll discover how residents bring incredible vitality to Heron’s Key and personally experience undeniable benefits through volunteering and sharing their lifelong talents and interests.

community volunteering by Sue Engen

A Spark of Enthusiasm and a Plan.

Sue personally ignites a spirit for community and support within Heron’s Key. By knowing her a little better, you’ll understand why and how. She’s a true Midwesterner having grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. With a Masters Degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she began her career with an all-out search for where she wanted to live. “The one thing I learned from growing up in Wisconsin is that I did not like hot, muggy weather or bugs,” Sue says. Seattle fit the bill. She applied for a job in the Seattle Public Library and was hired.

Sue is a lifetime career woman and, as she puts it, “I’ve always had a ‘day job.’” Her career took her from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, where she lived for more than 30 years working in high school and elementary library settings, as well as for a company that provided library automation. Then back to Washington State.

Moving to Gig Harbor in 1999, Sue found the neighborhood perfect for her—welcoming, on the outskirts of a larger community, with trees and views of the water. From this vantage point, she began a methodical quest for the next stage of her life in the perfect retirement community. On each vacation, she reserved two days for “community shopping.” Then one day, in a local newspaper she read about Heron’s Key—a new senior community right outside her front door. “I realized the time was right, and the more I learned about Life Plan Community living, I was convinced it was totally affordable, as well,” says Sue. So, the downsizing began and Sue moved to Heron’s Key in 2017. “A gift to my family’s next generation who won’t have to worry about me or any future health care needs,” says Sue.

An Amazing Sense of Community.

“After settling into Heron’s Key,” says Sue, “I was pleasantly surprised about the spirit and varied talents of all the amazing residents. I knew they would be friendly and welcoming, but I had no clue they would be so interesting and available to each other—always ready to give of their talents. Heron’s Key is truly fertile ground for growing an amazing lifestyle—and volunteering is a big part of it.” Residents Dan and Lois Wilson couldn’t agree more. Read their interesting account of the Heron’s Key lifestyle in our recent blog.

“Numerous residents who’ve organized auctions and art sales for charities, churches, schools, etc., are ready to jump in and help anytime we need their talents,” Sue says. “There’s a resident who was an active member of the San Diego Audubon Society and now produces a weekly radio program for us, featuring the segment 30 Birdies You Can Find at Heron’s Key. A nursing professional had experience as a barista and now leads the team of volunteers that fire up the community latte machine two mornings a week so we can enjoy early morning socialization while sipping a frothy beverage (And during COVID, they deliver with just a punch of a coffee card!). Also during these times, many residents participate in our radio program called Fighting Cabin Fever with suggestions to keep us all engaged.”

Read More: Why Heron’s Key Became Our Home

There’s so much neighbor helping neighbor at Heron’s Key, Sue says. She tells of a lifelong learning program with a former columnist for a local newspaper. He recently hosted an informative Zoom presentation on COVID-19 and its impact on the local economy. Management and the Resident Communications Committee work together to get everyone up-to-speed on computer skills. Sue shares that at the onset of the pandemic and quarantine, this group offered an orientation for anyone who wanted to learn Zoom. Sixty-two residents showed up! “Now, the Communications Committee coaches residents individually,” says Sue. “Someone sits in the hallway right outside a resident’s door – with a mask on and the door open—and helps with computer struggles. Even I am a Zoom coach!”

The sense of community at Heron’s Key can be seen in just the way residents greet each other, Sue tells. “Everybody greets you,” she says. “We all have nametags, of course. The more introverted residents will take a look at your nametag and say ‘Hi’; the extroverts—like me—will say ‘Hi’ and then start wildly waving hands and arms! My only worry is that—post-COVID—I won’t recall what my neighbors and friends look like without a mask. But, then I’ll know them so well now by their body type, their walk, their hairstyle!”

Sue’s Community Volunteering & Fundraising.

Sue volunteers a considerable amount of her time to the Heron’s Key Residents Association which sponsors the committees on lifelong learning, food, gardening, landscape, and more. Through their dedication, efforts and coordination with the resident services staff, residents receive daily activity calendars that include information on exercise offerings, committee meetings, fiber arts group gatherings, card group activity, Bible studies, counseling services, and more. All are offered on Zoom these days. “I can’t say enough about how lifelong learning is promoted and encouraged at Heron’s Key,” says Sue.

A unique activity connects Sue—almost daily—to her neighbors and “provides the additional personal benefit of exercise,” says Sue. Because delivery personnell are not allowed within Heron’s Key these days, packages for the residents are delivered to the front desk, checked in, signed for and disinfected. From this point, Sue loads them on a cart and delivers them to residents’ doors. “Management is scrupulous about safety and cleanliness throughout the community,” says Sue. “We’ve had ‘zero’ infections here. I feel safer here than I would in my home—and so do others—as is evident by the several move-ins we’ve had in July.”

Read More: Want a Great Way to Stay Happy & Healthy? Build New Friendships

As chair of the Fund Development Committee, Sue heads up —with the help of many residents— fundraisers for three community funds:

  • Benevolence Fund. Designed to help residents who may need financial assistance for community fees later in life. “Again, if there’s a need, resident volunteers just show up,” says Sue. Acres of Squash is one such fundraiser. One of the residents (called Mr. Squash) maintains a patch of squash on the southside of the campus. “If you know anything about squash,” says Sue, “you plant it and RUN because it grows so fast. Everyone is invited to take what they want and leave a donation for this fund.” Now in planning stages, another special fundraiser—Holiday Tree Decorating—has a two-fold purpose in raising money for the Benevolence Fund. At the same time, it gives wonderfully talented residents in both independent and assisted living an outlet for their creative talents during this challenging time.
  • Scholarship Fund. This committee directs fundraising and business for this fund that provides scholarships to Gig Harbor high school students in support of the community surrounding Heron’s Key.
  • Employee Appreciation Fund. Because no tipping is allowed within Heron’s Key, residents like to make sure employees are taken care of at the end of the year. “It’s the staff at Heron’s Key that keeps us healthy and strong,” says Sue. “They shop for us, cook for us, hang our pictures, and are available to us at every minute. So we take care of them at the end of the year with a big party and a check for each one.”

Outdoor Activity This Summer.

As you can tell, Sue and her Heron’s Key neighbors contribute daily to the vitality of this friendly community. It’s especially engaging during the summer when socialization and activity switches to the outdoors. In August, Heron’s Key is celebrating outdoor activity, and Sue shares her appreciation of two activities that mean so much to her personal lifestyle.

  • Gardening. The Woodworkering Committee made 25 10’x3’ cedar beds lined with plastic and filled with dirt. Residents join the Gardening Committee and proceed to grow, water, maintain and nourish plants of their own choosing. This year, Sue planted sugar snap peas, tomatoes, kale and rhubarb dressed up with geraniums. “Gardening offers quite a social opportunity,” says Sue. “After dinner, the gardeners appear. We chat, take care of our beds, and have a great time.”
  • Dog-walking and more. Heron’s Key is a pet-friendly community, and, as such, dogs must go “out,” right? “Walking my little puggle (a pug-beagle combo) is an amazingly social event,” says Sue. “The pathways around our campus are lovely and several dog-walkers are strolling along. The management of Heron’s Key has also placed benches throughout the campus to make the outdoors more inviting for residents—especially those who are mobility-challenged.” Sue goes on to tell of the Heron’s Key Walks Around the Neighborhood program designed as a great way to get out and see what’s going on within the campus neighborhood—masked and socially distanced, of course.

When asked about her plans for the future—post-COVID—Sue says, “I’m going to eat out—A LOT! And have dinner parties.” Wouldn’t it be fun to be on that guest list and get in on some great conversation?

Heron’s Key invites you to continue exploring our vibrant community, our lifestyle and opportunities for volunteering through our monthly blogs and Facebook page. To start the conversation through a virtual consultation and tour of our community, and its services and amenities, call (877) 892-7129 or contact us online.