Who We Are as a Community: Highlights From Our First Five Years

Senior Anniversary

Just as a child’s personality emerges within the first several years, so has the personality of our community in the five years since we welcomed the earliest residents. To give you some insight into who we are, we’ll share with you some favorite memories from our “formative” years.

We know that you have choices when it comes to independent living in Gig Harbor. It’s our hope that you’ll be intrigued enough after reading this to further explore our community.

Let the Fun Begin!

It probably comes as no surprise that one of our staff’s favorite recollections was the Grand Opening. After years of planning and construction, we were excited to finally see the first group of new residents move into their homes. It’s amazing to us that we’ve grown from about 170 residents at the end of 2017 to approximately 300 today.

Those earliest residents played a key role in shaping our community. Along with helping to form the first resident council, they also created the first resident-led interest groups. As more people have moved to Heron’s Key, the list of groups has grown to about 35.

You’ll find groups that share their passion for photography, art and music, for instance. One group, called Education for Enjoyment, organizes classes and lectures for anyone who wants to attend. There’s also a group that is responsible for a wildlife sanctuary project here on our property.

We’ll tell you about more of these groups and introduce you to some of the earliest Heron’s Key residents later in this blog post.

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

One of the most compelling reasons for moving to a senior living community is the opportunity to connect with others.

We were delighted to see newcomers mingling with established residents as they settled into their new homes. There were invitations aplenty to meet for dinner, participate in a class or join one of the interest groups.

Then, the pandemic hit.

To protect the health and well-being of everyone in our community, we had to limit in-person contact. But this, too, played a role in forming the personality of Heron’s Key.

Staff members and residents worked together to find new ways to connect. We got creative.

Virtual happy hours became part of the usual routine for some. Others participated in exercise classes in the safety of their home, thanks to digital technology. Volunteers delivered meals from Syren’s Grille to their neighbors or pitched in to show their support for frontline workers.

We truly came together as a community.

Finally, the vaccines became available. Eager to resume their usual activities, residents were thrilled to get vaccinated at our on-site vaccination clinics. We’ve never seen so many people smile about getting a shot in the arm!

Cautiously, Gradually Returning to ‘Normal’

It warmed our hearts to see so many people going the extra mile to buoy their neighbors’ spirits during the worst of the pandemic. Still, we’ve been delighted to have more in-person activities again.

One of the first in-person events we had after some of the restrictions were lifted was a patio concert and barbecue last summer. It was easy to see how much everyone had missed having events like this as part of our way of life at Heron’s Key.

Ever-mindful of the health and well-being of all who live and work here, we’ve been slowly adding more activities, both on campus and off.

Another Favorite Staff Memory: An Award for Our ‘Exemplary Efforts’

Each year, Holleran surveys residents and employees at hundreds of senior living communities. We were honored to have been selected as a 2020 Choice Community based on the results of that survey.

The award recognizes the top 15th percentile of the most engaging senior living organization in the U.S. Honored for exemplary efforts in creating a culture of engagement and satisfaction—despite the pandemic—Heron’s Key was ranked at the top of senior living communities.

Michelle Holleran, founder and CEO of the research firm, noted that 2020 was an “exceptionally challenging year within the senior living industry.” She said this made the recipients of the Choice Community Award “all that much more extraordinary.”

The Holleran award is further proof that if you’re looking for independent living or assisted living in Gig Harbor, then Heron’s Key and Penrose Harbor should be on your list to consider.

Residents Share Some Memories of Their Own

The Alnesses

As Charter members of Heron’s Key, Ann and Bob Alness were among the first to move into our community. One thing that Ann loves best about living here is that “it’s a place where you can be yourself.” You can participate in whatever you want. If you’re not the outgoing type, there’s no pressure to be involved.

As part of the resident-led Food Services group, they work with Chef Jason and the culinary team on menu planning, based on feedback from residents throughout the community.

When asked if a particular memory stood out for them, Ann mentioned how warmly a neighbor greeted them when they moved in. Having been the only resident on the sixth floor for several weeks, this neighbor welcomed them “with open arms.”

A memory that’s especially meaningful for Bob is when he got to show off his 1961 Jaguar XKE a couple of years ago. He had been in Penrose Harbor after a lengthy hospital stay and had just returned to their apartment in independent living. Another resident who belongs to a local car club had arranged for the club’s members to display their vintage and exotic cars at Penrose Harbor, and Bob was invited to add his pride and joy to the exhibit.

The Alnesses also discovered after moving to Heron’s Key that one of Bob’s relatives is on our staff. They aren’t the only ones to have an “it’s a small world” experience here, as you’ll see in a moment.

The Polens

Nancy and Howard Polen are also Charter members. Like Ann and Bob, they moved to Heron’s Key in October 2017.

The Polens live on the fifth floor, which Nancy said has a reputation as “the party floor.” Many of the residents enjoy happy hour several days a week and often have dinner together afterward.

Howard and Nancy left a home on Fox Island with fantastic views when they moved here. Nancy said the property required a lot of upkeep and their taxes were going up, so it made sense to move to Heron’s Key when the opportunity arose.

“We have not regretted one hour of it,” Howard said.

“The community has come together in ways we never thought,” Nancy said. “We didn’t ever think that we would have best friends here, but we do. It’s a very giving community, and I think giving people are happy people.”

They’re both on the Scholarship Committee, which raises funds to assist local students through annual scholarships. They also serve as resident ambassadors, helping new residents learn their way around and settle in.

Howard also volunteers at Penrose Harbor, making regular visits to residents in assisted living “just to make them laugh.” He’s our community Santa Claus every year, as well.

Nancy noted that at Heron’s Key, “your friends take care of you.” As an example, she and others helped a neighbor who recently had undergone chemotherapy, doing his shopping and helping in other ways.

“It’s like we’re in a family,” Nancy said.

“A big family,” Howard added.

The Gaussoins

Ross and Percy Gaussoin left their longtime home at Browns Point and moved to Heron’s Key four years ago. They looked at one other community before ours. After attending a luncheon here, Ross said, they decided there was no reason to continue their search.

Referring to Heron’s Key as “friendship central,” Ross described how he and Percy reunited with old friends after finding out that they also live here. The Gaussoins hadn’t even moved in yet—they were here for a downsizing seminar when they ran into their friends. Now, the two couples have dinner together every week.

Ross also mentioned the variety of the resident interest groups, the availability of other levels of care at Penrose Harbor and the “phenomenal” food service as reasons for being satisfied with their decision to move here.

“It’s hard not to brag about this place,” he said.

They, too, serve as resident ambassadors, and Howard chaired the Scholarship Committee until last year. Percy volunteers at Penrose Harbor.

“You wake up every morning and you’re glad you’re here,” Percy said, adding that they “feel blessed” to live at Heron’s Key.

Come Create Your Own Favorite Memories

We’re proud of the community our staff and residents have created. It’s a vibrant place to be, surrounded by friendly people who engage with life and have fun. We’re eager to see how the next five years will unfold.

While you’re on our website, we hope you’ll take some time to learn more about the active lifestyle you can enjoy at Heron’s Key. As one new resident put it, it’s “sort of like living on a cruise ship, with all the fun things there are to do, but you stay in one place!”

If you’re interested in experiencing our community firsthand, we invite you to contact us so we can arrange a convenient time for you to visit. If you like, we’ll even reserve a guest suite for you. It’s an especially good way to try us on for size!