Highlights of the Healdsburg Retirement Community Personalized Senior Housing

HEALDSBURG, CA – Susan O’Connell brought up an interesting paradox about the enthusiasm surrounding the Zen-inspired Enso Village retirement homes in Healdsburg.

She said it’s about living a better spiritual life until you die. That may or may not be a great catchphrase, but she knows it’s true.


“We know we are going to die,” said the village’s founder and former director of the San Francisco Zen Center. “We don’t think about it.”

“But if you move here, this is pretty much the final move. I’m going to die here,” O’Connell said. “So what I really want to pay attention to is (being present) and maybe going deeper and answering some questions that were really important to me before I died and all that.

“It’s the check mark of growing older. It increases the interest in being present. We support that in various ways.”

Presence is key: you don’t have to worry about the past or emphasize the future. Enso Village residents meditate. They do yoga. They take lessons. They swim and work in the gardens and meet in the courtyard. It’s already a community, and that’s what O’Connell had in mind when he envisioned a future for 20 teachers at the San Francisco Zen Center in 2006.

“We had promised pensions to our senior teachers, but no one understood how that would actually work,” said 77-year-old O’Connell. “So I started bringing attention to the problem. And then one day I had an idea about how it could possibly be solved.”

Enso Village opened its doors last fall. They are senior housing with a focus – a spiritual Zen focus, whose physical center is a Japanese zendo (meditation building), right in the middle of a well-sculpted courtyard, surrounded by three-story residential buildings.

The idyllic setting of Sonoma County, pressed into the hills with a vineyard across the street, could be called a pure Californian stereotype. It’s also the beginning of what could be a new way to approach housing during the later years of someone’s life.

When full, Enso Village will be able to house approximately 300 residents aged 60 and over. There will soon be several levels of care, including home care, assisted living and memory care, with the last two starting in June. There will be 24 rooms designed for residents with mild to moderate dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or similar conditions, and 30 residential units separate from memory care.

Demand has been so enthusiastic that senior residential developer Kendal Corporation, which partnered with the SF Zen Center and investors, is already planning a second Southern California community, expected to open in 2027 in Simi Valley, which is already accepting deposits .

“We have about 180 residents here now, which is about 60% occupancy and 221 independent living units and then about 50 assisted living units,” said Nick Flores, Enso Village’s chief marketing and communications officer. “We’re about 70 percent booked. We have people coming in all the time.”

Some of the first residents included more than a dozen former SF Zen Center teachers, for whom twenty units have been reserved. They teach in the village, just like other people with different specialties. Flores said the average age of residents is about 67.

Judee Humburg moved to Enso Village in December. The former tech worker and teacher has no family, but is a big believer in community and meditation. She heard about the village, did some research and sent them a deposit within a few hours of joining the website.

“For me it meant taking responsibility for my life in a way that involved grace and some social responsibility and commitment,” said Humburg, 78, who said Enso was far preferable to owning a house. “I like the idea of ​​community and caring for each other, but not cleaning the gutters and dealing with the fence falling down.”

Humburg said the village is the start of a larger movement in senior living communities as more people live longer.

“It’s groundbreaking,” said Humburg, a holder of two degrees from Stanford University. “Aging is not what they thought it would be. You can still live a quality life in an elegant, caring and genuine way.”

Humburg’s point that people are living longer and needing to find new ways to connect is well made.
In 2019, approximately one in eleven people on earth were 65 years or older. According to the United Nations, that number will almost double by 2050, to one in six.

The World Health Organization has said that the number of people aged 60 or over will more than double between 2015 and 2050, from 900 million to 2 billion. Projections from the US Census Bureau say much the same: In 2016, there were 49.2 million people in the US aged 65 and over. By 2060, that number will increase to approximately 94.7 million.

So as Boomers and Gen

“We are seeing more housing types that meet the specific preferences and needs of older adults than in the past,” said Jennifer Molinsky, director of the Housing an Aging Society Program at Harvard University.

Molinsky said she hasn’t heard of other Zen-influenced senior communities, but “with the growth of the older population, there are of course more active adult communities as well as continuing care and retirement communities.”

“We’ve been interested in co-living, targeting both older adults and multi-generational households; these are more typically resident-driven developments,” Molinsky said. “And there are some unique models of non-profit or non-profit partnerships, which have built communities for older adults and families who are adopting from the foster care system.”

Enso Village is a non-profit organization. There is a one-time entry fee and monthly costs are comparable to owning and maintaining a home in the Healdsburg area, according to the company. Prices depend on the size of the housing unit, whether one or two people live there, and the level of care provided. Some fees may be refunded if a resident moves out or to their estate if they die, once a unit is occupied again.

O’Connell said Enso Village is for people who make plans.

“A lot of people here live in California and bought their homes 35 years ago, 40 years ago, even 20 years ago,” O’Connell said. “They bought a house and with the property values, as they are in California, they can sell their house for a good amount of money. Usually people sell their house to pay the entry fee, and then there’s a monthly fee, which is nice. ” of what you spend on your life now, every month.”

Tam Perry is a professor at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University in Michigan. Her ethnographic research focuses on housing transitions of older people from a network perspective.
Perry said there is a movement among senior living facilities to offer residents what is familiar.

“You can’t recreate someone’s home, but you can try to make people feel at home,” Perry said.

This involves designs that feel less institutionalized. Pets may also be involved. For some residents, it just makes them feel better about where they are. For others it is less disorienting. Anyway, it’s more personal.

“It helps people communicate with the person, or with their past self,” she said.

Perry said she hasn’t heard the word “Zen” used much in connection with senior housing, but more and more facilities are designing quiet spaces or using Snoezelen rooms, which are designed as a relaxing space that helps reduce anxiety and anxiety. Some are colorful, multi-sensory environments intended to engage users, stimulate responses and encourage communication through images and touch.

Perry said more facilities are also incorporating nature into the design, as well as things like cooking and gardening.

“The new models are coming because of demand,” Perry said, adding that she worries about seniors who don’t have the income to have many options when it comes to retirement.
“California as a housing market is an expensive place to live anyway,” Perry said. “I would also caution that social compassion and a sense of belonging can be achieved at any cost.”

The units at Enso Village are spacious and comfortably designed, with kitchens. There is also a communal restaurant-style restaurant and a separate kitchen for vegetarian dishes.

Kyle Evans is the chef at Enso Village. Much of what he cooks comes straight from the complex’s garden. There are five or six entrees on the menu every evening. Unlike similar senior facilities, he says it has an “open canvas to be creative and meet the nutritional needs of residents.”

“It’s a little less restrictive,” Evans said. “But when we’re dealing with assisted living and memory care, we have to be a little more accommodating on those aspects. But for the most part, it’s really great that we have a resident population that welcomes variety and is comfortable with different varieties. of food. It’s not just mashed potatoes and meatloaf, although I think I did that twice.”

O’Connell said Enso Village has no lifestyle requirements. Residents do not have to be Buddhist or even practice meditation. Many residents have halted their own spiritual development while raising families. Now it’s their turn.

“There are a lot of people who put their spiritual curiosity on hold,” said O’Connell, an actor and independent filmmaker, with TV acting credits on shows like “Ironside” and “The Streets of San Francisco” before becoming involved in the SF Zen Center. “You knew it was there, and then there was no more time with kids and all that. For them it’s a chance to get back into that and complete something. That’s definitely a whole group of people.”

The environment also grows on people, especially those who move with a partner who is already versed in a Zen lifestyle.

“I always say the only requirement is that you are not allergic to meditation, because you don’t have to do it,” O’Connell said. ‘There are people here who have a cynical tendency. I’ve seen some of them turn into these, you know, teddy bears, because it’s not what they were afraid of.”

When asked if Enso Village has transformed the skeptics, O’Connell laughed.

“Maybe they’re a bit cynical, but it’s a beautiful place and they want to give it a try. I don’t think ‘transform’ is too strong a word.”

Story by Tony Hicks, Bay City News.

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