Creating a community where all can feel safe, welcome and accepted

herons key inclusive community

As one of the younger retirement communities in the Seattle area, we feel it’s incumbent on us to shape Heron’s Key into a community that will appeal not only to today’s seniors but also those who will be looking for a place to call home 10 years from now — and well beyond.

For a variety of reasons, our region attracts a wonderfully diverse array of people. Right here at Heron’s Key, our board members, residents and staff have a fascinating assortment of backgrounds and life experiences, and that diversity will only become more pronounced with time.

The newness of our community gives us ample opportunity and flexibility to sculpt our culture, which is why we’ve been working for the last year or so to solidify a policy of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

Our journey began with a task force, which morphed into a committee with representatives from both the staff and residents in our community. We’ve laid the groundwork, and now we’re excited about spreading awareness of DEI among all stakeholders at Heron’s Key.

What Do We Mean by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

At the highest level, we want to bring greater awareness to the fact that we welcome and honor the unique qualities of all people.

Our ultimate objective is for Heron’s Key to be a safe and accepting space for all community members — our employees, residents and board members — as well as visitors, service providers and anyone else who engages and interacts with our community.

To create that safe and accepting space, we believe it’s important to address all three components of our DEI statement, because they are intertwined.

Diversity: While this includes traits that commonly come to mind when talking about diversity, such as race, religion, age, ethnicity, nationality, language and sexual orientation, we also incorporate other differences people have, from physical and mental abilities to relationship and socioeconomic status.

Equity: By placing an emphasis on equity among individuals, we hope to ensure more than fair treatment for everyone in our community. We also seek to identify and remove inequities that prevent participation, access and opportunities.

Inclusion: For our community to be truly successful, it has to be a place where people feel they belong, where they can feel free to communicate their lived experiences, and trust that their voice will be heard.

Framing Our Intentions and Putting Words Into Action

We wanted to make sure the people who would be developing our DEI commitment statement and building the foundation for greater awareness of DEI would accurately and appropriately represent our community.

The following are thoughts and hopes that several DEI committee members volunteered to share:

Barbara, Resident

Barbara and her husband, Robert, were among the very first residents to move into Heron’s Key. She says she was eager to participate in this group because she and Robert “want a community of people that feel really welcome to express different beliefs and different understandings. It makes [the community] richer.”

Noting the unique opportunity to be part of a committee that includes both staff and residents, she says the committee is working to create an environment “so that people feel comfortable no matter who they are, and that they feel comfortable being who they are.”

“When you start looking through the filter of DEI at all you’re doing and not doing, and saying and not saying, it opens your eyes. I mean, that’s what happened for me. That’s why I’m interested. It’s helpful to consider and look at things in different ways.”

Heidi, Fitness Specialist

Heidi brings a wealth of multicultural perspective to the table. She grew up in a Latino family in New York City, served in the military and has lived and traveled all over the world.

“It’s very interesting that, because we have so many cultures, there is so much more grace,” she says about being on the committee. “It’s a good learning tool for all of us to learn from one another.”

She says the committee has had some very deep discussions that aren’t always easy. “Sometimes important discussions are not comfortable discussions,” she points out. “These are important topics that I don’t think we would be talking about unless we have this group.”

Learning to be more open-minded and accepting is, in a way, like starting to take fitness classes when you haven’t worked out at a gym before, Heidi says.

“It’s a growth for anyone who invests any time in learning about the people around them, because that’s really what this is about. It’s about us learning about who is around in our community, and how can we be better to one another.”

George, Facilities Supervisor

George says he volunteered to be on the committee because he learned about discrimination at an early age: his mother, who moved to the U.S. from Korea, faced discrimination from co-workers.

He says he enjoys participating on the committee because it’s a safe place to talk about differences between people and how that can lead to differences in the way they are treated. The group’s goal, as he sees it, is to help educate and open the minds of people who are willing to listen.

“The more we understand as a society, the more we can be kind and look through somebody else’s eyes,” he says.

Before taking on the role of facilities supervisor, George supervised the staff members who work in housekeeping, janitorial and laundry. He’s had the opportunity to get to know some of the most diverse groups in our community, hear about issues they sometimes run into, and at times even serve as a mentor for those who are looking to advance in one way or another.

Another goal George has for serving on the committee is to encourage people not to be so quick to take things personally and get defensive. Sometimes people say or do things because they have only limited information or they make a false assumption. Rather than closing them down or escalating the situation, it can be used as a learning opportunity.

Katie, Executive Director

Katie stepped into the role of executive director late last summer, so she became involved with the DEI committee after the work was already underway. She says the DEI policy has been welcomed by staff and residents throughout the community, and “our group continues to grow.”

The committee has taken steps to familiarize the rest of the community with its work, she says, noting that the focus so far has mostly been on inclusion. It’s a logical place to start, since we want to be sure that all residents have access to and can participate in what’s going on throughout the community.

One example, Katie notes, was an event that Heidi co-led with Suzi, our spiritual wellness coordinator. Vision goggles were available for residents to wear that simulated different types of low-vision scenarios — wearers could experience what it’s like to have glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration, for instance. The workshop helped those who participated have a better understanding of what it’s like for people who live with low vision.

Katie wants people to realize that DEI isn’t just about race or gender. People have many kinds of differences, including their physical capabilities. “It’s all-encompassing,” she says.

Only the Beginning

The DEI committee has discussed more events it wants to have this year and other ways to increase awareness. One of the main events the group is planning is a multicultural fair, which will likely take place in late spring or over the summer.

Katie would also like to have someone from the University of Washington come to Heron’s Key to do a lifelong learning presentation on diversity, equity and inclusion.

In the meantime, the committee will work with other staff to integrate the topic of DEI into our orientation programs for new employees and new residents.

And the committee will continue to educate itself, as well. Katie revised the agenda for the committee meetings to include a discussion of a different topic each month. Members of the committee will each take a turn finding an article that’s of interest to them, presenting it to the group and then leading the discussion that follows.

The activity is designed to “empower the committee members to be the leaders within the group,” Katie says.

For More Information

If you’d like to learn more about how we’re promoting diversity, equity and inclusion at Heron’s Key, we encourage you to contact us and start a conversation. If you want to see for yourself just how welcoming our community is, let us know and we’ll set up a time for you to visit.

Featured Image: Jake Johnson Photography