OCEAN PINES — Woodlands owner Rick Handelman had a devilish look in his eye as he approached the front desk.
“Watch this, they hate this,” he said waiving his hand in front of the three-foot-tall Santa standing guard next to the desk.
“They” were the staff and residents at the Woodlands and the result of his frantic waving gives the best picture of what it is like to live at the Woodlands. The Santa didn’t move.
Handelman looked up at the small number of people lounging in the lobby with pretend accusation and hurt.
“They sabotaged it,” he said. “Again.”
By the time he got it working it was pretty clear why the Santa has been repeatedly sabotaged. The Christmas message was long and loud and more than a little grating. The whole scene gave the impression that Handelman had purchased the decoration with the express intention of giving the residents and staff an opportunity to engage in this fun little war with him.
The Woodlands is an independent living facility, meaning that most of the residents are active seniors who either occasionally need help with a task or are reaching the age where they may soon need a little bit of help. But Handelman and the staff have established such a homey atmosphere and attitude that more and more often, people are selecting the Woodlands based solely on the fact that there is always something going on.
The Woodlands provides a full calendar that includes organized trips out, group participation events within, and the kind of camaraderie few people get to experience once they’ve graduated college.
In addition to providing a full continental breakfast during the week, the Woodlands has a movie theater and a bar with Happy Hour. During football season, the whole building subscribes to NFL Ticket — residents pay only electric and phone for their apartments — and the movie theater becomes one of the best places to watch the games.
When the Woodlands first opened, it was conceived as primarily a condominium with people buying their apartments as they sold their homes. The real estate bust changed that a bit and over the last several years an increasing number of residents elect to lease the apartments as they wait for their homes to sell.
The lease option is widely popular not only for this reason but also because it allows residents to get comfortable in their surroundings before buying. Handelman said that most of the residents purchase the condos they occupy as soon as their home is sold, rather than continue to lease it.
This decision has primarily to do with the value the staff and Handelman bring to the Woodlands experience.
General Manager Carole Friedburg, who runs both the Woodlands and the neighboring assisted living community Catered Living, literally tears up when she talks about the satisfaction she gets from her job.
Not too long ago a Woodland resident had a fall and went to recover at Berlin Rehabilitation. One of the nurses there remarked to Friedman on the number of visitors and gifts this person had during their convalescence. The person in question didn’t have any family, all of the visitors ere Woodlands staff who wanted to make sure the resident didn’t get too lonely while away from her home.
“It reminded me of why I love doing this,” Friedman said. “And how important it is to have your heart in it.”
By taking an active part in residents’ social lives, she and other members of the staff not only become more invested in residents’ wellbeing but also foster an infectious sense of community. Residents tend to look out for one another.
If someone is missing from an event they always attend, a resident is as likely to notice the fact as a member of staff. And while there is usually a good explanation for a change in behavior, sometimes there isn’t and that’s when the community can become part of improving or saving their neighbor’s life.
As residents age, sometimes they require a little more help than is offered at the Woodlands. Friedman said one of the best benefits of having Catered Living just across the parking lot is that it takes the worry away from residents who find they need the assisted living services that facility provides.
Moreover, since the community is so close knit, people who move from the Woodlands to Catered Living can and do maintain not only close contact with their friends who are still in the Woodlands, but also often continue to participate in the events held in the Woodlands.Handelman is at as many of these events as possible, mostly because he enjoys them but also because many of the positive changes that he has implemented at the Woodlands over recent years have come from conversations with residents about their daily experiences.
“You learn to listen to people because if they tell you something they’re usually right,” Handelman said.