A Community Committed to Social Accountability

March 3, 2014

Written by Scott Miller

We—all of us—live in community. From the other members of our household to the neighbors of our municipality to our fellow citizens of the world, we interact with and impact others. Steve Lindsey, chief executive officer at Garden Spot Village, examines the concept of social accountability and how our residents, staff and management walk the walk.

Destination Garden Spot Village: What do you mean when you talk about “social accountability” at Garden Spot Village?

Steve Lindsey: We are essentially looking at the issue of how Garden Spot Village can use its resources in order to benefit the larger community, to be a good corporate citizen to support the community we live in. You could also refer to this as a program of “community benefit” or “civic engagement”.

As a non-profit organization, we are given the benefits of not being required to pay certain taxes. In return, there is an expectation that we will relieve the government of some degree of burden—that we will provide certain kinds of services in exchange for that tax relief. We have a duty to serve a charitable purpose in the community, to provide some level of education and support.

The other part of the equation comes out of our faith tradition. The Mennonite tradition speaks of service that is provided in the name of Christ. We reach out to the community to provide service beyond the boundaries of the campus. This commitment represents an extension of our mission and our faith.

A commitment to service is not exclusive to the Anabaptist tradition, but it definitely resonates with the thought process and the theology. A commitment to serve others with humility and in a manner that reflects the love of Christ is what Anabaptists have been about for hundreds of years.

DGSV: How long has social accountability been a focus at Garden Spot Village, and how has it changed over the years?

Lindsey: Social accountability has always been a part of the fabric here at Garden Spot Village, always a part of our culture. I remember having conversations about it with Dale Weaver, our founder. He always talked about serving the larger community. He’d ask, “What can we do to make an impact, encourage people, support our neighbors?”

So the intent has always been there, and as our resources have grown, we have been able to expand the ways we serve. Today, we continue to try to stay connected to the community at large, to understand what their needs are and find ways we can support them. Over time, it has been interesting to see how our definition of the larger community has changed. Initially, we looked locally at Eastern Lancaster County. Over the past several years, we have had opportunities to serve the global community.

DGSV: How do you stay in touch with local needs?

Lindsey: In a variety of ways. Many of our board members, staff, leadership team and residents are involved in community organizations like the chamber of commerce, the New Holland Business Association, local service clubs, local churches. Through those networking opportunities, we hear about needs and we’re able to be a part of the ongoing discussion. We attend open space meetings and other strategic planning efforts to try to understand the issues. We tap into the community health assessments that local hospitals conduct to see if we have opportunities to serve.

We desire to serve and support the local community, and one of the ways we do that is by providing tax revenue as a way to support their ongoing operations. As the largest single-entity taxpayer in the district, we pay $1.2 million in real estate taxes. About $910,000 of that goes to support the schools and a smaller share goes to the county and township. Although the courts have recently decided that non-profit retirement communities are not necessarily obligated to pay those taxes, our board has consistently agreed that we should pay a reasonable share of taxes in order to support the services of our local community.

DGSV: How is Garden Spot Village making an impact globally?

Lindsey: We’re providing education to organizations around the world, which is not something anybody would have predicted we’d be doing when we first got started. For example, we were recently invited to speak at the China Senior Living Summit in Beijing this fall [2011]. The invitation came out of the reputation that Garden Spot Village has developed as an innovator in the way we approach issues and develop services. Thousands of individuals from hundreds of organizations around the world have come to see the work we’ve done in developing the skilled nursing household model and learn how they can translate that to their communities. Those visits represent opportunities we have to have an impact on the way services for older adults are shaped globally.

DGSV: Non-profit status mandates social accountability. How does it also free an organization to maximize its potential to benefit the community?

Lindsey: As a non-profit, we focus on growing services. If we can increase revenue, that means we can provide more services to residents, the community and others. It’s a fundamentally different philosophy than a for-profit company. It’s not about shareholders or an owner. It’s all about sustainability for the organization. Any margin allows us to put money back into the organization and back into the community. Studies have demonstrated that the quality of care is higher at non-profits.

One of the things we do as a non-profit is to provide a significant amount of benevolent care—about $1.4 million last year. It has always been a part of Garden Spot Village’s ministry to provide residents with care and services even if they reached a point where they were no longer able to pay for that care themselves. It all goes back to the mission of “enriching the lives of older adults as an expression of Christ’s love.”

We subsidize care and services for those who come to our Adult Day Services program—which is another service to the larger community. Most of the Adult Day Services clients live off campus.

We allow our staff to take time to speak at schools and at state and national professional conferences and to participate in other educational efforts to develop the field of senior services. That can happen when you’re not focused solely on billable hours.

DGSV: What are some other manifestations of Garden Spot Village’s commitment to social accountability?

Lindsey: There’s a long list! We host many support groups that are open to participants from the larger community, as are the concerts and educational programming we offer throughout the year. These range from safe driving classes, to pastoral care programs to adult enrichment classes, family-oriented drive-in movies and more. We also make our meeting rooms available to non-profits from the community, and we open up our campus for fundraising events like the crop walk and Pedal to Preserve.

We provided the land for the ELANCO Library, which is on the north side of the campus, and we continue to support the library with snow removal and landscaping services. We also make significant contributions to help the local fire department purchase equipment and support ongoing operational costs.

We provide internships for college students and international interns. Middle and high school groups come in and collaborate with staff and residents. We provide volunteers for reading and mentor programs at local nursery and elementary schools.

One of the big things we did this year was “Encore: The Festival”, which came out of the idea of providing education to people who are looking at retirement at some point in the future. As we planned speakers, we asked, “What are the skill sets you need to be successful in retirement—not just financial, but social, physical, emotional and spiritual?” It was a way of educating people in the larger community.

DGSV: How does Garden Spot Village benefit the larger community economically?

Lindsey: Being a large employer is part of that. We employ about 470 local people. Just in terms of salaries, that represents about $12.2 million a year. We try to do things other things intentionally to support the local economy. For example, during the season, instead of buying produce through distributors, we purchase from local farms. We try to buy locally whenever we are able.

We also have almost a thousand residents who are shopping in local grocery stores, buying cars and otherwise involved in the local economy. A huge amount of disposable income gets pumped into the local economy as a result of Garden Spot Village being here. When friends and family members visit, they shop in local stores and go to local restaurants.

In addition, we do different events like our annual marathon, which bring a large number of people to this area. Often they stay in the local bed & breakfasts and hotels, buy meals, shop when they’re here. Frequently they’ll come back to sightsee and spend more time in the county.

DGSV: Residents contribute in other ways, too.

Lindsey: Yes. Residents donated 34,000 hours of volunteer time here at Garden Spot Village last year, and we have a lot of residents who volunteer off campus. We don’t keep track of the thousands and thousands of hours they serve at local churches and civic organizations and non-profits. We have residents who tutor in the local schools and mentor youth, others who work on issues related to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The list is expansive.

Volunteerism is fostered and has become part of the culture here. It’s part of what makes Garden Spot Village a very special place.

DGSV: In terms of social accountability, what’s in store for the future at Garden Spot Village?

Lindsey: We’ve got some great things coming up. It’s too soon to share the details, but we are exploring opportunities to use facilities on campus in partnership with other non-profits to serve the community in some unique ways. Going forward, we will continually look for ways to serve that align with our core values of teamwork, excellence, service, stewardship, integrity and innovation.

This interview was originally published in the Fall 2011 Destination Magazine.

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