Last Day of Trip to Serve Puerto Rican Seniors

Team photoGraveyard photoBy Belkis Schoenhals

Note:  Belkis Schoenhals was one of 10 National Church Residences team members who went to Puerto Rico with Volunteers of America to help the seniors there.

Our last day in Puerto Rico was one of reflection. Although we had seen a lot of damage and people in need over the week, we also reminded ourselves that we saw a lot of beauty. I think that we tend to focus on the damage and destruction in the wake of a disaster, but Puerto Rico is nothing short of a safe, beautiful, and friendly place to visit. We were able to spend the morning walking through old San Juan and were reminded that every situation is multifaceted. It is beauty alongside destruction and need alongside resiliency.

While walking in old San Juan, we had the privilege of running into the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Julin Cruz. We were able to speak with her about our mission in Puerto Rico and exchange information with her staff to remain in contact about how we can continue to serve. In the afternoon, I visited with my aunt and cousin who live in San Juan. They got electricity only two days ago, but are doing well. The rest of the team visited with Illia’s family and delivered the last of our supplies to a family in need.

Overall, I feel blessed to have been a part of Mission Esperanza. As a team in 5 days time, we visited with over 300 seniors across 5 apartment communities in 4 cities. We sorted and made 600 bags of supplies for seniors totaling more than 300 pounds of supplies. We all feel truly grateful for this experience and honored to serve on behalf of National Church Residences.


Day 5 of Trip to Serve Puerto Ricans

By Belkis Schoenhals

Note:  Belkis Schoenhals is one of 10 National Church Residences team members who joined a Volunteer of America team to serve seniors in Puerto Rico. 

Yesterday (Friday) our group was able to do a joint project with Volunteers of America. After a morning huddle at their downtown office, we drove to a low the Ramos Antonini housing project in San Juan. This project is massive with 804 units (1,700 people) built in the 1960s. They have not had any electricity since Hurricane Irma!

We broke into two groups, one who translated the property managers’ notes of need onto the Volunteers of America assessment forms and the other to walk to about 40 units that had medical needs.

This project was the most humbling to me.  The damage from the hurricanes was still very visible. One apartment building was burned. A family had a generator in their apartment and tried to use a candle flame to start it and caused a fire. Luckily no one died. In addition the roofs are of a style where gravel sits on top.  The 185 mile-per-hour winds caused the small stones to fly into the air, shattering car and apartment windows.

After completing our work, our National Church Residences group felt the urge to do more for the community. We went to Costco and bought specific supplies that the project manager said they needed including Ensure, Pediasure, and diapers. They were overjoyed that we came back with the supplies.

Over dinner we went around and shared what our most memorable moment has been this far. We all had different responses, but they all centered around our connections with the residents and their sense of resiliency and gratitude for what they did have. We agreed that our routine complaints at home seem so small compared to what the people here have to endure daily.

Once home in the evening, we walked to the beach where we were greeted with a beautiful sunset.

Helping Our Puerto Rican Seniors: Day 3

By Belkis Schoenhals

Note:  Belkis Schoenhals is one of 10 National Church Residences staff members who are working in Puerto Rico with Volunteers of America to assess senior needs and provide supplies.  This is her blog.

Today was another great day of service and new experiences. We started the day around 8:30am by greeting a National Church Residences van that came from Villa Santiago in Fajardo, PR. The driver and property manager helped us load 250 pounds of supplies onto the van to be transported to Fajardo for  the residents.

We followed behind the van for the 1.5 hour drive. The drive was beautiful, many humble homes dotted along the hillsides with mountains in the background. We also passed electrical crews working to restore fallen electrical poles. Once at Villa Santiago, we made and sorted supply bags to pass out to residents, and visited and assessed all 65 units. The residents loved the supplies and were so happy that we took the time to speak with each of them.

One woman, Maria, stood out to me. She is almost deaf, and her family lives in Colorado so she only has one friend who helps her regularly. She admired my lanyard and plastic ID holder, noting that she’s been looking for something like it to hold her medical ID and keys, which are often misplaced. I immediately took mine off and gave it to her, helping her put in her ID. She was so moved she cried. I realized how seemingly small acts of generosity can mean so much. Attached is a photo of us with her new lanyard!

After we finished at Villa Santiago,  we drove to Carolina, PR, which is 20 minutes outside of San Juan to deliver supplies and assess the 100 units at Villa Esperanza (Hope Village). By this time, it was 4:30pm so we were a little tired, but happy to speak with more residents.

Overall these residents were overjoyed that they had electricity back, but are concerned that they can’t find bottled water in the stores. Clean water is scarce, but we reminded them to boil the tap water for at least 5 minutes before drinking it. We found many residents in the community room socializing and playing dominoes. We ended our visit with a group photo with them.

It’s past 11 pm, and we are just getting showers and winding down for the day. We are truly humbled to assist and speak with our residents. We are amazed by their steadfast faith and sense of communal support.

I also want to note what a great group we have. We always hear about being Mission Ready, and this group certainly is. We use our unique skills to work as a team to serve, and I am proud of each and every one of my teammates.

Tomorrow we head out at 7am two or three hours towards the northwest to assess a VOA property. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers as we travel around the island.

Helping Puerto Rican Seniors on the Ground: Day 1

By Belkis SchoenhalsChris.Kevin_Day2

Note:  Belkis Schoenhals is one of 10 National Church Residences employees serving on a trip to Puerto Rico with Volunteers of America to help assess and provide supplies to seniors on the island. She is providing a blog diary of their work.  

Although we spent all day traveling yesterday, we all felt a collective uplifting energy as we flew to San Juan. We saw many military persons, electricians, and people with relief organizations all coming to help. We were able to get to our house safely due to the skilled driving of Kevin and Chris. Traffic lights are out here and driving around is very hectic so we appreciate their nimble skill! Last night we ate at a local restaurant nearby and enjoyed Caribbean dishes such as mofongo, tostones, and arroz con habichuela.

This morning we headed out to the hotel and met with the VOA group. After a huddle we went to their downtown warehouse where we made about 400 bags filled with water, food, and personal supplies for the VOA properties  (the video I sent). We also made 200 bags filled with protein bars and water along with the supplies we were sent down with for our residents at our three PR properties. After about two or three hours of filling bags and sorting supplies we headed 40 minutes away to Guaynabo to do resident assessments at our Villa Provedencia property. We split into 4 groups and visited all 75 units and spoke with each household to see what their needs and concerns were. Most were in very high spirits and very thankful for what they had. The main concern was the elevators not working as many residents on floors 2-5 cannot do stairs. Interpreting for the residents will stay with me forever- their gratitude, warmth, and kindness in the stressful circumstances is humbling. One man I interpreted for was so moved by our presence that he cried. We spoke with him and his brother who love to paint and do puzzles. Another woman said “I live here in peace and happily. The assistant property manager and service coordinator are our angels- they never abandoned us.”

We also spoke with the assistant property manager and the service coordinator. Their sacrifice, strength, and resilience is incredible, but they are exhausted.

Truly a hard day’s work, but one that has left us feeling blessed for this opportunity to serve and make an impact.

Tomorrow we head to our property in Fajardo, which is 2 hours away to do more assessments. We will also assess a VOA property there. Pray for our safe journey there and back.

Over and out until tomorrow.

Meet 105-Year-Old Dorothy Wilson of Clark East Tower in Ypsilanti

By Sojourner Marable Grimmett

Mrs. Wilson_Photo

Imagine having the opportunity to sit down and interview a 105-year-old woman. What would you ask her? I posed this very question on my personal Facebook page and received over 150 responses from friends. The questions ranged from, “What was your childhood like?” “Were you involved in any freedom movements?” “Which invention over your lifetime has made the most impact?”, and “Do you have any home remedies for colds?”

In late September, I had the blessing to sit down for a video chat with 105 year old Mrs. Dorothy Wilson to listen and learn about her life. I adjusted my earplugs as I sat in a small quaint Midtown coffee shop anticipating her voice. Thanks to one of our National Church Residences’ staff member’s iPhone, I was grateful to see that Mrs. Wilson was residing comfortably in an oversized chair in the front lobby of her home, located at National Church Residences’ Clark East Tower in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

With a million questions racing through my mind, I started off by simply asking “How are you feeling today?” She replied, “I feel good. I’ll be 106 in November. I never thought that I would live this long. I’ve been asked so many questions about my life. How do you live this long? What do you eat?” I laughed, because some of the questions she stated were the next couple of ones that I was going to ask her.

Mrs. Wilson was born on November 28, 1911 in Mt. Vernon, New York. Her mother passed away when she was a young child. She was raised, along with two older sisters and two older brothers, by her father who was a lumber worker and stepmother.

Mrs. Wilson is an African American woman who went to an integrated school and “had a very good life” not feeling the harshness of racism and discrimination. “I never felt too much discrimination. We went to school with white children and I played with them too,” she said.

Growing up, she enjoyed playing ball with her siblings, and spending hours of time at the library. Mrs. Wilson was a curious child, “I always wondered about the world. I would go out on the porch and stand and look out and I always thought the sky and the earth met.”

When asked about healthy eating, she said, “There are a lot of things I didn’t eat. My stepmother didn’t prepare meals like we have today. My favorite foods were vegetables. I enjoyed eating lettuce and tomatoes, and we ate things when they were in season. We grew everything; tomatoes, cucumbers, and string beans. When it came down to southern dishes we didn’t eat those.”

I pivoted the conversation and asked, “Let’s talk about the evolution of style, beauty, and fashion. How did you wear your hair?” She replied, “When I was younger I remember my stepmother use to comb my hair and put Vaseline and a hot comb through it until it ruined my hair. Black women look much different these days. They looked better when I was growing up.” As an African American woman, I processed her comment and then grinned. I thought to myself how different the world must look like now with its rampant consumerism and the over-complexities of beauty.

As a teenager, Mrs. Wilson’s penmanship was remarkable. Her only regret was not attending college. “I wanted to attend Wilberforce University.” Living near the railroad tracks she wanted to become an engineer. Instead, she chose a career path in nursing, working at Brooklyn State Hospital.

When asked, “What was your favorite decade and why?” Mrs. Wilson reminisced and proclaimed it was during the 60’s. “If you’re born in one decade and live to see another, then God has spared you to see as much as you can. I would go to soapbox talks in Harlem on the weekends. You’d have different soapbox speakers every weekend. I saw Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Joe Lewis.”

Mrs. Wilson married George Wilson at the young age of 19. He was an entrepreneur with a motivated heart and together they started a small catering business. “I had a good married life. My husband taught me a lot. He taught me how to drive. One day he was taking me down the road and I wanted to get behind the wheel. I got mad and was going to walk back home. He went around the block, starting following me, then he got out of the car, and let me drive.”

In 1967, her husband passed away, and five years later Mrs. Wilson sold their family business. Every year, Mrs. Wilson visited her sister in Ypsilanti, Michigan. “I’ve only lived in one state all of my life until 1972. I decided to move to Michigan to be with my sister and her family.”

Mrs. Wilson joined Brown Chapel in 1973 under Pastor George Powell. From then on she has continued her missionary and volunteer work in Ypsilanti, serving in the Missionary Society, Willing Workers, as a member of the senior Usher Board, past president of Church Women United, Beyer Hospital Auxiliary and past matron of Ruth Chapter #2 of the Eastern Stars; and at Beyer Hospital for 22 years and Turner Geriatric Center Silver Club for 8 years.

When Mrs. Wilson turned 89 years old she moved into East Clark Towers. She still writes checks and enjoys the freedom of living on her own. Mrs. Wilson mentioned that the greatest invention of her time was the automobile, which she gave up driving when she turned 101 years old.

Her greatest accomplishment in life is: “Getting along with people and treating everyone right. Always be careful what you say. And never look down on anyone else. I’ve always gotten along with anyone no matter what color. Always remember to treat people the way that you want to be treated.”

The best of the National Conference 2017

About 900 National Church Residence employees gathered in Columbus for the  2017 National Conference, “The Mission is Me,” from Sept. 25-28. The conference, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, gave employees from all regional and corporate offices opportunities to fellowship and support one another.

The conference began with an address by President and CEO Mark Ricketts, who painted a vision for the organization’s future while welcoming employees to the conference. Television personality and journalist Joan Lunden also spoke about the importance on living your best and healthiest life.  Executive Vice President Michelle Norris talked about the importance of caring for yourself when you are doing mission work.  She gave the first of several updates on the situation of three National Church Residences properties in Puerto Rico.

The next day brought classes where employees discussed the importance of communications, philanthropy, social media and public speaking, among other topics. Following the day of presentations, the day ended with an awards dinner where many property managers in different properties were honored. The rest of the conference provided more insight of hot topic issues happening in communities and offering support and guidance.






Commons at Chantry and Heart of Ohio come together to bring free backpacks and health tips to residents

By Elizabeth Randolph


Sending a child back to school comes with many financial obligations for parents. Some can only hope for assistance with new school supplies and healthy snacks for their child to start off the school year right. Even more people would love to have a health care facility that was both close and affordable for them.

Commons at Chantry and Heart of Ohio made these desires a reality on Saturday, August 19. The property hosted a backpack giveaway for almost 90 children in the facility who are heading back to school. The backpacks were filled with new school supplies for the first weeks of school and were only available to the residents who are under 18. More than 120 participants were in attendance at the event. “We wanted to give our residents something that will make things easier for them,” said Christine Manigoe, family advocate for Commons at Chantry.

Commons at Chantry gave 71 backpacks to children in the community to enjoy.  After receiving the backpacks, the children enjoyed a complimentary bagged lunch, courtesy of Mid-Ohio food bank. The property gave out approximately 117 lunches to those who attended. The food bank holds a weekly food drive at Commons at Chantry and provides fresh, healthy foods for residents of the community.

In addition to the backpack giveaway, the back to school event was a way for Commons at Chantry to announce its recent partnership with Heart of Ohio. Heart of Ohio is a health center that specializes in family and women’s health care including pediatrics, OB/GYN, wellness visits, pharmacy assistance, preventive care and education, especially regarding diabetes, breast cancer and prenatal/postpartum care for new mothers, according to its website.

Heart of Ohio wants to reach out to as many people in the community as possible and give them overall health care. “We are already helping some people in the area with our primary care facilities,” said Jen Schehl, marketing director of Heart of Ohio. “When National Church Residences approached us to help staff the health center in the clubhouse we were thrilled. Even though we have a little more to go until we actually launch, we wanted to come out and meet the residents and let them know we’re coming.”

The health fair provided residents with blood sugar screenings, blood pressure screenings and diabetes screenings from a certified doctor. There were 25 health assessments completed by the end of the event. Heart of Ohio plans to have these services in more when the launch of the Chantry Family Health Center takes place. “It will be just like a normal doctor’s office,” said Schehl. “It’s going to be overall health care including services for infants through seniors.”

The Chantry Family Health Center will uphold the tradition of helping people within the community. Heart of Ohio also plans to market to other people who live in the community near Commons at Chantry. “We want to offer as many services to the community as possible, said Schehl.  If there is anything we can’t offer, in the new facility, we will refer them to another one of our facilities.”

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