The phrase HANDLE WITH CARE is commonly marked on packages that contain valuable or fragile contents. It’s a phrase that currently comes to mind in relation to the Chapel Court area of St. John’s United. Contents in this case, however, do not reference items within a package. Contents reference people within a community.

Last winter and spring, St. John’s staff carefully planned for and executed the relocation of all Chapel Court residents who were then living within what was known as Wing 2 of the original St. John’s Lutheran Home. Residents were moved into adjoining wings.

The reason for resident relocation was because Wing 2 was slated to be intentionally demolished in June 2019, in order to make way for the new Chapel Court Apartments currently under construction. As spotlighted with a prior issue of Echoes, this affordable housing project will create 56 apartment units that will each provide improved living areas for residents. Well in advance of any transitions, information meetings for residents and their family members were convened. These meetings explained the nature and timing of the Chapel Court project. Many individual conversations with residents and their families were also scheduled.

When asked about the transitioning experience, Chapel Court resident Mildred Tombre replied, “The information we have received has been good and pretty interesting. It made me curious. I am open to all this. I have never even lived in a two story building before.” Neighboring resident Delores Kautzmann agrees with Tombre. “I have liked the meetings the staff had for residents. They told us what is going on. The building we are in is tired. I understand that. I am very happy that staff have been so caring to keep us informed.”

When asked what she thought of moving into new apartment space next year, resident Nadjii Hanika smiled and said, “I have been excited about the new building. I put my name on the list to go to the top floor. I’m looking forward to having a kitchen area and am looking forward to the new coffee set-up in the entrance. The staff has been very good to tell us what’s coming. It is time to do this. I thank the good Lord I can make this move.”

Karna Rhodes, St. John’s Administrator, observed that family members and residents all seem to understand that the original St. John’s building, which opened in 1963, needed some attention. Rhodes comments, “Although change can be hard, people have been supportive. They have given me a sense that we are all in this together. The mission of St. John’s is not changing, but the aesthetics are.” Chapel Court Health Director Tennyson Gabel adds, “Family members knew that it was time to do something. They have been affirming. Initially, this project seemed scary to me as it seemed scary to some of our residents. The more I learned about it, though, the more I got on board. I think this is very much needed. It’s exciting, and it will be new. Most importantly, this is an affordable housing project.”

Residents within the new Chapel Court Apartments will enjoy spacious living and amenities that were previously unavailable. They will also have options with catered living services tailored to individual needs. Rhodes says, “I am hoping that from a resident’s perspective they will see that they have more flexible options in the future.” Chapel Court social worker Lindsey Stewart agrees. “We will continue to serve our current residents as we have been, but soon in new and expanded ways within a new building.”

Concern for handling the lives of residents with care has been paramount for St. John’s leadership and employees. In preparation to relocate people Stewart says, “We invested a lot of attention to understanding what the routines were for individual residents. They each have their routines and safe spaces. Some residents were worried about making the move, but once moved, the residents discovered they were okay. Now they are settled and can look forward to what is to come.”

Resident Ruth Ewen believes the new apartments are going to be good for St. John’s. “It’s quite a transition, I know. I hope the construction work goes rapidly. I hope the grounds are pretty when it’s all done. The grounds are so nice here.” A neighbor down the hall, Loraine Anderson, agrees with Ruth. “This will be wonderful once it’s all done. If people are looking for a home, I always tell them that St. John’s United is a good place.”

After expressing curiosity about this new venture, resident Mildred Tombre concludes, “I also have confidence that God has blessed St. John’s. It is a faith community that God will continue to bless.”

Amen to Mildred and amen to Chapel Court residents as they live through this time of transition that will eventually lead to new opportunities for hope, dignity, and love to increase.