By George Castle, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Quiet and near-poignant moments with her residents have meant the most to Elly Bauman in her first few months as executive director of the Park Plaza Jewish Senior Living Community in West Rogers Park.
Bauman told of one resident who had to leave his apartment to undergo rehab off-site. Another resident who is his close friend wanted to visit him.
“Just me sitting with her and listening, she was very upset he had to leave,” said Bauman. “Helping her get in touch with him, helping her get to visit him (was important). It was just so heartwarming to see. These residents have lived here a number of years and have become close friends. I see it on a daily basis.
“They just want to be heard sometimes. They have what some would consider complaints, but you have to look at them as suggestions and concerns. For me, I have to always remember this is their home. Most people just want someone to hear their story or their issue. Even if you can’t do anything about it, it’s just letting them talk and just hearing what they have to say.
“Sometimes people are in such a rush to keep moving with their day that they forget to stop to listen to others. Here, there’s time built-in to stop and listen to others. That’s one of the best parts about this job.”
She can easily walk out her office door and immerse herself in her residents’ stories. Bauman described their narratives as “pearls of wisdom.” On this day, an 85-year-old Navy veteran from the 1950s, proudly wearing his old ship’s hat, provided some seafaring tales right by the lobby piano. He nodded heartily when asked if he admired the late John McCain, far above his swabbie rank as a captain prior to becoming a legendary senator.
One daily staple is receiving the residents’ feedback on whether the indoor climate is too warm, too cold or too in-between. Shuttle diplomacy is a required skill for Bauman.
“When they feel it’s too hot, we can open windows,” she said. “When it’s too cold, it’s harder. We try our best. Most people understand we’re trying. We tell them we’ll get it step-by-step. I think it’s having someone answer them in a nice way. That goes a long way.”
The 130 Park Plaza residents – including one 100-year-old and another at 99 — are never far from Bauman’s mind. She takes her rest from official work on Shabbat, but does not intellectually turn off thoughts of the residents and how to make senior life more stimulating and enriching.
“It’s a balancing act, between facilities, staff supervision, programming and the residents,” Bauman said. “It’s making sure I have enough time in my day to do all of it.”
An East Brunswick, N.J. native, Bauman attended the University of Albany (N.Y.) where she received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and Judaic studies. She also has two masters degrees – in educational administration from New York University and Jewish Education from The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Before coming to Park Plaza, Bauman was executive director of Beth Hillel B’nai Emunah Congregation in Wilmette, and before that she served as education director at synagogues in New York, New Jersey and Toronto. She has extensive background in recruiting, training and supervising teams of staffers and volunteers.
Bauman, now a Skokie resident, and husband Rabbi David Bauman, have two sons, Matan, 19, and Ori, 16.
She became interested in Park Plaza after getting a good scouting report on its decades-long operations.
“I was ready for a change to work in a different non-profit,” Bauman said. “I always liked working with seniors and I also like the ‘macro’ of working with building facilities. It all just came together.
“I loved my time at the shul and working with my staff and board. This was a new adventure that presented itself.”
Bauman is still in a watching-and-listening phase before she crafts any major changes in Park Plaza operations. But in the meantime, she wants to bring in more Israel-savvy speakers, while using residents’ own talents to teach and present programs among the 12 to 15 formal weekly activities. Most joyous are music programs that include singalongs from such all-time musicals as Fiddler on the Roof and Hello Dolly.
Seniors and pets always make a good match. On a Tuesday, “Danny Boy Dog” with trainer Cathy have a good time with a visit.
Seniors’ biggest challenges are the process of giving up their independence.
“It’s showing them they can remain who they are by doing the things they love to do.”