Monday, March 3, 2014

Where Do You Live If You Cannot Afford to Live?

Last week I was privileged to represent our conference at the annual meeting of the Retirement Housing Foundation in Cerritos, California which is a community about 10 miles from Long Beach.  The Retirement Foundation (RHF) has an annual meeting each year at which representatives from the 30 Conferences of the United Church of Christ are invited to attend.  This year 5 conferences sent representatives.  Members of the Board of Directors of RHF were also present as were persons who work in various positions within the framework of RHF.  Part of the meeting was a continuing education opportunity for RHF Employees who manage and administer the housing facilities across the nation, part of whom come yearly to this event, according to the geographical area they serve.

The meeting began with a worship service held at the Community Congregational UCC Church in Los Alamitos, CA which is about 5 miles south of Cerritos.  The service was both a celebration of the ministry of RHF and a time to remember those who have served and died during the past calendar year.  Special music was offered and a sermon was preached by a UCC pastor.  I was asked to lead a prayer during the service and other Conference representatives had a part in the service as well.

The annual business meeting of RHF was held the next morning and then we loaded onto a bus to tour two of the housing communities in the area that RHF administers.  Both were in excellent condition and offered the residents a good quality of life but each was distinctive in its own rite.  Bixby Towers in Long Beach is a multi-story building that is clean and well kept and offers seniors a comfortable place to live at affordable prices.  We ate lunch there and the food was restaurant quality, served by a very gracious waitstaff.  I asked our tour leader if we received special food because we were visitors or if the residents received the same food.  I was assured that the residents also had the same choices we were offered (grilled salmon, nice green asparagus, a baked potato was what I chose).  All the residents we met and talked to seemed very happy.  We toured two model apartments that were well decorated and represented the kind of apartments the residents live in.  I was very impressed by Bixby Towers and the staff members who work there.

We also toured St. Mary's Tower, another multistory apartment building but this time this housing unit is specifically designed for low income persons, who would not have other choices of places to live if it were nor for St. Mary's Tower.  We were told that to qualify to live there, one's annual income could not be more than one-half of the average yearly income of the residents of the area.  Those who live there have to pay 1/3 of their income for rent and the rent is subsidized by the government through HUD.  St. Mary's Tower is clean and well kept also.  We toured two apartment there also but these had residents living in the apartments we toured and we were able to meet them.  They seemed very happy living at St. Mary's although their qualification for being able to live there is much different from the senior housing at Bixby Towers.

The Retirement Housing Foundation is a ministry operated through the auspices of the United Church of Christ.  The Board that makes decisions for RHF has 51% of its members as clergy and lay persons who are members of churches of the United Church of Christ.  The reason for its existence is to provide affordable housing to seniors and low income persons across the nation and they are continuing to seek places to establish new housing units to help meet the increasing need for housing across the nation.

The final meeting of the conference was a banquet held on Friday night at which they honored persons who work and live at the communities across the nation.  It felt like the Academy Awards, which would be held just up the road at Los Angeles two nights following it.  The Retirement Housing Foundation honored the Resident of the Year, a Korean man who lives at Angelus Plaza in Los Angeles, who spoke in Korean and had someone interpret into English what he said, a man who gives of himself to his community where he lives because he loves the life he has there.  They honored the Manager of the Year, a woman who oversees Desert Sage Manor in Oregon.  She thanked many people for her award and told stories about why she loves working with the residents there so much.  They honored the Administrator of the Year, a woman from Missouri who bubbled with joy as she shared about the job she does at St. Catherine Retirement Community.  They also honored the Volunteer of the Year, a 16 year old young man who gives of himself to the residents of the Mayflower Convalescent Hospital in Lancaster, California and who inspired everyone with the words he used to describe why he gives of his time to others.  Sitting at the table with persons from across the US of several ethnicities filled me with joy as I experienced the warmth of this celebration of talent and mission.

The Retirement Housing Foundation fills a need in society by providing places for persons to live when no other place is available to them.  When one stops to consider where people go when they become older and need care or when they cannot afford to pay what is required by the normal places to live in society, the options are few.  One can live with a relative that may be willing to take them in or in public housing if that option is available to them but there are places where none of these options exist and some have no relative to assist them.  RHF ministers to persons in the spirit of Matthew 25 by providing housing that persons can turn to when other options may not work for them.  It is a ministry that many do not know exists and that we need to explore and share with the family of the United Church of Christ.  It is a ministry that continues to grow with the needs of society and fills in the gaps that would leave some in the lurch without it.  I am glad that I learned about it and plan to assist others in knowing more about its mission and ministry also.

If you would like to know more about the Retirement Housing Foundation, look it up at:  

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