In a time when so many are feeling isolated, long-time Denverite Jill Vitale-Aussem is coming home to community — or communities, in this case. Mid-November, she will become the first female president and CEO of Christian Living Communities (CLC). The Denver-based senior housing provider serves six states and more than 3,000 older adults and their families, including her own.
Vitale-Aussem has already served at CLC from 2009 to 2018 in a couple different positions. During that time, she also assisted her parents Dave and Marge Vitale in finding the right retirement community.
The Vitales “looked at a lot of different places, and I toured some of the other communities with them,” Vitale-Aussem shared. “It wasn’t just about finding a pretty building. They wanted to live somewhere that was a true community, where they would have purpose in their lives, opportunities for growth and a true sense of belonging.”
Dave and Marge Vitale are now settled at Holly Creek Life Plan Community in Centennial, which is one of the 23 retirement communities Jill will oversee in her new position.
“We chose Holly Creek because of the friendliness and culture and were fortunate to have Jill’s guidance with looking at the various communities in the Denver area,” said Dave Vitale. “Bottom line, it felt most comfortable here.”
And Holly Creek has certainly provided a community where Marge and Dave can continue to grow and make a difference.
“My parents have been breaking stereotypes for as long as I can remember,” said Vitale-Aussem. “My dad goes on 70- and 80-mile bike rides, my mom does water aerobics and walks every day, they meet new people, and they love constantly learning new things and being able to use and share their talents and experience.”
Eighteen years ago, Marge was diagnosed with a rare, hereditary eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Within a few years she was legally blind, but it hasn’t slowed her down. In October, the dynamic couple pulled together a team of 33 residents called “What’s in Sight for Holly Creek” to raise funds for Colorado VisionWalk, an annual fundraising event for the nonprofit Foundation Fighting Blindness. 2020 marks the third VisionWalk the Vitales have organized at their community. This year, What’s in Sight for Holly Creek team raised $26,000, while wearing masks and keeping socially distanced.
Dave Vitale admits the pandemic has limited some activities, but he and Marge take advantage of the what is available. In fact, they are even working to combat the isolation growing with safer-at-home restrictions. “I am president of our Resident Association, which also keeps me busy. We have a ‘health and happiness’ committee which influences the effort to have a balance between limitations and healthy choices which reduce social isolation here at Holly Creek.”
Vitale-Aussem echoes her father’s feelings about the importance of reducing social isolation, which research shows can be as devastating to health as smoking and obesity. “There is so much focus on ‘aging-in-place’ in one’s home, which can work well for some people, but we often also see many folks who end up being socially isolated,” she explained. “We are hardwired to belong. Living in a vibrant community setting doesn’t just make us feel good, it’s essential to our health and well-being. It’s so important to find a community where we experience belonging, purpose, and growth.”
For Marge and Dave, having so many great friends where everyone supports each other is the essence of their community. They are excited for what their daughter’s new role means for all CLC communities, and how she will help them continue to thrive. “We know Jill will focus on keeping the great culture that we have going on and continue to empower residents to provide input into the decisions affecting our lives.”
Vitale-Aussem offered this last bit of advice for seniors looking to downsize. “The thing I told my parents and I tell other people is that it’s important to not get trapped in the ‘I’m not ready quite yet’ mindset. What I’ve seen time and time again is that if our parents wait until they’re ‘ready,’ it’s often too late to make a good decision.” She believes that it’s best for older Denverites to look into options — more now than ever — so they can move smoothly into a home with community that will help them continue the life they love. “What no older person or family wants is to be making decisions in the midst of a personal health crisis.”