Showcasing Dedication and Determination: Algeir Warren’s Story of Service

On his way to work one morning, Algeir Warren’s car began to smoke under the hood. Algeir is a bus driver at Westminster Winter Park and was in a time crunch with only 20 minutes to get to work to drive residents to church. After delivering his car to the mechanic closest to the community, he decided to run the four miles to work.

“My job is to be there on time!” Algeir said. “I wanted to make sure I was there on time.”

Algeir is just one of the 2,700 dedicated team members at Westminster Communities of Florida. These remarkable individuals serve older adults with the same commitment in communities across the state. Each day they make decisions with the best interests of our residents in mind and inspire us with the same unwavering commitment Algeir showed by choosing to run to work.
“It was amazing to me that he decided to this but what I think what was even more amazing was that he didn’t tell a lot of people about it,” Westminster Winter Park Executive Director Angie Layfield said. “He just did it because I think he felt it was the right thing to do and he didn’t want to let the residents down.”

Algeir is a distance runner and has completed eight-mile runs, 10-mile races and half marathons.
“I run a lot so I thought I can do that in that amount of time!” Algeir said about the race to beat the clock to the community. “I got there in time – I made it!”

“Algeir really understands that the disappointment or the letdown for those residents would they not have been able to make it to church that day was something he didn’t want those residents to experience,” Angie said. “I think he is a person who truly understands the impact that team members have on a resident’s day, every day. It shows our team members understanding of their role in the resident’s quality of life.”

Algeir has been part of the Westminster Communities of Florida family for a little over a year and hopes to transition to the community’s physical therapy department having recently graduated with an associate degree in physical therapy.

He said he is drawn to geriatric health and enjoys working with the elderly.

“They all have stories,” Algeir said. “When you work around them, you realize that some of them don’t even have family members or anybody to talk to. I can relieve some of that and brighten up their day! I can be somebody that they can talk to and help them get back to walking or help them with their balance.”

We are immensely grateful for Algeir and all the team members who continue to serve and uplift our residents in extraordinary ways, making a difference in their lives each and every day. Their dedication and determination truly make Westminster Communities of Florida a place where excellence thrives and the spirit of service shines bright.

Thanksgiving Letter From Garry Hennis, Chief Operating Officer 2023

Dear Team Members,

During this time of great unrest in the world, we pause and give thanks for our many blessings. Together we have experienced challenges in the last several years – disease, hurricanes, an uncertain economy, and a changing business environment. Today there is war in Ukraine and in the Holy Land, threatening life, health, and religious beliefs throughout the world.

However, we have much for which to be grateful this year: Our families, our friends, our fellow team members, and our residents.

Our country celebrated some of its first Thanksgiving holidays under similarly difficult circumstances. As Americans we have relied on our gratitude for each other and for our many blessings from God to help us get through whatever challenges face us. 

As I reflect each year on what I am grateful for, I realize that I am most grateful for my family and friends, for the ability to share a Thanksgiving meal with those loved ones — and for you, the Westminster team members.

Our Mission of service is dear, and you live it each day.  No matter your job, your work is essential to the Mission of Westminster Communities of Florida.

This Thanksgiving, on behalf of the entire leadership team, I thank you for everything that you do. I hope you enjoy this holiday and that you take time to give thanks to all those with whom you share it.

1 Chronicles 16:34: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

In the Words of Experienced Authors: Essential Tips for Aspiring Writers from Westminster Communities

Westminster Communities of Florida is home to a diverse community of over 7,000 residents hailing from various parts of the United States and around the world. Among them are retired teachers, ministers, doctors, nurses, businesspeople, soldiers and published authors. Some residents have published works in retirement, engage in writing poetry during their free time, or have even published as a result of writer’s group challenges. In an effort to tap into the wisdom and experience of our talented authors, we approached them with a simple question: “What advice do you have for aspiring authors?” Whether you’re contemplating taking on the National Novel Writing Month challenge or embarking on the journey of writing your first book, the seasoned authors at Westminster have shared their invaluable insights and guidance.

“1. Read widely from a variety of authors.
2. Know and limit the audience for whom you are writing. Don’t try to write for everyone. And know what response you want from your readers.
3. If your story in not unfolding well, start over.
4. Unity, coherence and proportion in every paragraph and transitions from paragraph to paragraph.
5. Brevity is still the soul of wit. Don’t lose your readers in details, keep your message moving.
6. Beware of signing with a vanity press. Get an agent—-if you can. At least try to get an agent to look at your work. Vanity presses will take any manuscript and charge plenty to put a cover on it. When in doubt about a contract, pay a lawyer to explain it to you before you sign.”
Richard J. Smith, Ph.D, Resident at Westminster Point Pleasant
Author of “Life After Eighty”, “Musings of an Old Man,” “Once Upon a Christmas,” “Tales from a Twilight House,” “Brain Exercises for Older Adults,” and 26 other titles available.

“Aspiring authors should join a writer’s group. My 335-page novel is the result of a class project where I was given a picture and instructed to write a 500-word essay based upon the picture. I have written many short stories, poems and a few plays since moving to Westminster Manor in 2015. In my first class, an experienced writer volunteered to assist me with grammar. I believe I would not have been successful without his help.”
J. Gary Shaw, Resident at Westminster Manor
Author of “OUTSIDER COPS – The Caribbean Case” and currently working on “Outsider Cops – The Canadian Case.”

“My advice to aspiring writers: Write the story you want to read. Read, listen, observe, write, rewrite. Keep going.”
Nancy Pate, Resident at Westminster Towers
Author of “Fiddle Dee Death,” “Marsh Madness” and “Way Down Dead in Dixie”, written under the pseudonym Caroline Cousins.

“In retirement I began to think about writing my story. Once I completed my story as an autobiography, I began to think about my wife’s life story. So, in a nutshell, that is how I ended up writing the two books. Publishing a book during my publishing timeframe had become remarkably easy. Amazon offered an opportunity for anyone to self-publish a book with very little or no cost. However, you needed to learn what their requirements were for designing a cover, editing and publishing a manuscript. I followed their direction and they did the work to create two books that are offered for sale in the U.S. and countries all over the world. What a great incentive to self-publish a story!”
Jerrel B Powell, Ph.D., Resident at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek
Author of “ALDENA Farmers Daughter, Wife, Mother: A Memoir of Our Life Together” and “THE MIDDLE SON: My Journey from the Dust Bowl Days of the 30s to the Present”

“Read, read, and read some more, especially in the genre you plan to write. Write often. Join a writer’s group and ask for criticism, especially from those who have published.”
Don (“Doc”) Sanborn, Resident at Westminster Manor
Author of “Sanborns Camp: A Memoir,” “Escape From Xanadu: A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age,” and “Plebe: My Year at the Citadel.”

“My advice to new authors is to know your subject better than anybody else. Be sure your references are iron clad and be careful how much ‘fluff’ you insert. Fast readers will just skip it and become annoyed because you are wasting their time.”
William Talley, Resident at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek
Author of “The Talley Principles: Contemporary Methods to Effective Management.”

“My advice for anyone wanting to publish a book: First, enlist the help of others. Join a critique group who can help revise your work, and hire a professional editor to make your finished product the best possible. Will your book be self-published, or will you send your manuscript to a traditional publisher? The world of traditional publishing is very competitive. No matter which route you choose, realize that the success of your book depends upon you to promote it. Be prepared to put forth effort.
Debbie Burton, Resident at Westminster Winter Park
Author of the “Tales of Blueberry Street” series

“I am proof that dreams deferred are not dreams denied. Believe in yourself and keep writing.”
John A. Vanek, Resident at Westminster Shores
Author of the “Father Jake Austin Mystery” series including “DEROS,” “Miracles,” “Absolution,” “Bedeviled,” and “Epiphany.”

NaNoWriMo: A Challenge for Budding Novelists

If you’re an aspiring novelist looking for a challenge, this is your month! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began November 1 and offers the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. By taking part, you can gain valuable skills and join a thriving community of creatives. At Westminster Communities of Florida, we believe that lifelong learning and experimenting with new creative endeavors and skills is an invaluable part of a well-rounded lifestyle. Read on to learn more about how National Novel Writing Month came to be, its benefits and tips for getting started.


NaNoWriMo began in 1999 with 21 participants who completed their novels and created a new tradition. Since then, the event has grown exponentially, bringing together over 400,000 people internationally who collectively write their novels.
For many aspiring authors, the event provides an opportunity to test their creative skills, build confidence and contribute to a community of writers sharing experiences and providing support to others during the month-long process.


NaNoWriMo gives you the chance to challenge yourself in ways that may not have been possible before. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone by trying new ideas, techniques, or genres as part of the project. If you set achievable goals, you’ll get the satisfaction of seeing what you’ve accomplished quickly – something that isn’t always easy when working on longer projects.
Additionally, many local communities host write-ins throughout the month where writers come together to encourage each other’s progress and share advice about their own writing process. If you’re looking for an exciting way to challenge yourself creatively this November – consider participating in NaNoWriMo!


Writing a novel in 30 days is an ambitious goal, but with the right preparation and tools it can be a manageable feat. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Set a Goal: Before you begin, decide how many words you would like to write each day and stick to it. Be realistic about what you think you can achieve which will help keep you motivated and on track.
  • Create a Comfortable Writing Space: Find somewhere you can focus and have your materials easily accessible. This may be at home or in a public space. Make sure that your environment has minimal distractions allowing you to make the most of your time.
  • Utilize Online Tools: There are plenty of resources available to help keep track of word count goals, organize ideas, take notes, brainstorm plots, research topics, stay focused and more! Utilizing these resources can greatly improve efficiency all month long.
  • Connect With an Online Community: Connect with other NaNoWriMo participants. Join online forums and discussion boards to ask questions about any challenges you experience along the way, share successes and inspire others to keep going!
  • Take Regular Breaks: Taking breaks from writing helps clear your mind so that when you return to work on your novel again, fresh ideas will come more easily.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a complete novice, National Novel Writing Month is a great opportunity to test your creative skills, build confidence and connect with a community of like-minded individuals. So what are you waiting for? Sign up today and start writing your novel!

5 Halloween Themed Snacks to Make With Your Grandkids

If you’re spending this Halloween with family, especially the youngest members of your family, why not spend quality time together making special holiday themed snacks? Try one of these adorably spooky snacks below with your family this year!

Skeleton Gingerbread Men

Find the recipe for these little guys on

Dark Chocolate Orange and Black Cookies

You can get the recipe for these black and orange cookies on

White Chocolate Covered Ghost Strawberries

This fun twist on a classic can be found on

Brain Rice Krispy Treats

A little spooky, a lot of fun, find out how to make these on

Chocolate Pretzel Spiderwebs

No spiders required for these webs! Learn how to make them on

What to Know About Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

If you are experiencing hearing loss, you may be wondering if over-the-counter hearing aids are a good option for you. Until recently, the only way to get a hearing aid was to go to a hearing health professional and get a prescription. Now, adults 18 and older with mild-to-moderate hearing problems can find a more cost-effective solution with over-the-counter hearing aids.

If you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to see a professional audiologist to get the help you need. A qualified provider can complete a diagnostic hearing test to determine the best way to improve your hearing. This will help rule out any complex ear conditions that can sometimes cause hearing loss including infections, earwax buildup or injuries, all of which can’t be fixed by hearing aids.

With complex conditions ruled out, consumers can buy these devices directly. Here is a brief overview of what you need to know about over-the-counter hearing aids, including who they are right for, what types are available, how much they cost, and where you can get them.

1 – What’s the difference between a prescription hearing aid and an over-the-counter device?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are available without a medical exam, prescription, or professional fitting. These “one-size-fits-most” devices provide a basic level of hearing correction and may be sufficient for some people. While prescription hearing aids are more expensive, they will be able to treat the nuances of different types of hearing loss better with more sophisticated technology. They may also be a good choice for someone who has tried an over-the-counter option without success.

2 – What types of over-the-counter hearing aids are there?

There are two types available: self-fitting and non-self-fitting. Self-fitting devices come with adjustable settings that allow users to customize the device’s sound output according to their own individual needs and preferences. Non-self-fitting devices come preloaded with a few predetermined sound settings and volume control. Overall, both types have their advantages and disadvantages, so it is important for consumers to understand each option before making a decision to get the most out of their device.

3 – Will over-the-counter hearing aids be the same quality as prescription hearing aids?

When it comes to hearing aids, the quality of the device is of utmost importance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates all types of hearing aids and has set minimum standards for safety and effectiveness that must be met by both over-the-counter and prescription devices. This means that when you purchase an over-the-counter device, you can be sure that it meets strict safety regulations and provides a certain level of sound amplification. However, there will likely be differences in appearance, style, features, and sound quality between over-the-counter devices and those prescribed by a professional audiologist or other qualified provider. Be sure to do your research and read user reviews for information about battery life, warranties and return policies offered.

4 – How do costs compare for over-the-counter hearing aids?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are typically much less expensive than traditional prescription hearing aids, with some models costing as little as a few hundred dollars. The cost of prescription hearing aids varies widely but can run anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000. Compare prices of the over-the-counter options as well as the features among different models to find the best value for your money.

5 – Where can I get an over-the-counter hearing aid?

Over-the-counter hearing aids are available in pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens, some big box stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, as well as online.
Acclimating to wearing hearing aids takes time and practice. You should wear your hearing aids frequently to become accustomed to their features and how to adjust the program settings to suit different listening environments. If you find that you are not getting the benefits you expected from your over-the-counter hearing aids, consider consulting with a hearing health care professional, such as an audiologist, otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), or hearing aid specialist.

Stay Mentally Sharp for a Bright Future

Each week, anywhere from 12-20 residents at Westminster Woods on Julington Creek, our Life Plan Community in Jacksonville, meet to exercise their minds as well as their bodies. Fitness Coordinator Jeri Jo Fox leads residents in stimulating exercises aiming to maintain their mental agility. Staying mentally sharp is a key component of leading a healthy life, and it’s never too late to start.

“Just because I’m the fitness coordinator, it’s not all about me teaching physical fitness,” Jeri Jo said. “Brain fitness is just as important.”

Westminster Woods on Julington Creek isn’t the only Westminster community mixing brain health exercises into their daily activities. Brain health programming can be found at each of our Life Plan Communities throughout the state emphasizing the need to exert different areas of the brain and maximize its potential as we age.

For years, Jeri Jo has been incorporating brain fitness exercises into her physical fitness classes. She completed hours of research, connected with experts, and created her own curriculum full of exercises involving finger manipulation, coordination and a combination of physical exercise and brain stimulation. Today she leads residents through a 12-week program called Total Brain Health. Through puzzles, games, creative endeavors, and even physical activities, residents are challenged both mentally and physically in order to stay sharp. The science-based, expert-designed curriculum offers simple exercises for cognitive wellness and details why these exercises are beneficial for brain health.

“There are so many things that are related to brain health for a successful quality of life,” Jeri Jo said. “I’ve seen after COVID the people who did not socialize or exercise, part of them just shut down. There’s so much that you can control, so why not incorporate it?”

During class residents are given worksheets and handouts to coincide with the brain games and workouts to highlight which area of the brain they’re working and to further develop social skills, but the lessons are varied.

“Every week is a different lesson so residents aren’t going to fall behind if they miss one or two or three,” Jeri Jo said. “You start off with a physical warmup with your hands and your feet, and everything you do you’re counting backwards or forwards or saying the alphabet, so you’re warming up your brain.”

Jeri Jo noted that she has some very healthy and very independent residents attending the Total Brain Health class, but that the program extends beyond just independent living residents.

“This is the one class some of my more physically challenged independent residents can attend. They might not come to balance class, but they really look forward to this,” Jeri Jo said. “I took that same exercise to the health center because they can do it! Even if they are sitting in a wheelchair, they can still participate in a brain game.”

Residents tell Jeri Jo they notice the effects and feel better. “They look forward to this and they like the challenge,” she said noting she’s seeing benefits herself leading the class through these exercises. “I feel like my mind is clearer and sharper because I do this stuff.”


By exercising your brain either at home or at a Westminster community, you strengthen the neural pathways in your brain, which can help to improve your memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and if you can’t be there to participate in Jeri Jo’s Total Brain Health class in person, she offered some ways you can get a brain workout at home to improve your brain health and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders.

  1. 1. Read out loud for 15 minutes each day.
  2. 2. Write. If your hands don’t work well use your computer and type or write for 15 minutes each day. Write a letter, or write a story, write a summary of your day, write what you’re grateful for – just write!
  3. 3. Socialize. Connect with others. In order to have a conversation with somebody, you have to remember what they said, you have to pull from your memory and find the vocabulary.
  4. 4. Challenge your brain through a mentally stimulating exercise or by doing a game against the clock. Something that is new and novel is desirable to your brain.
  5. 5. Eat well, stay hydrated, sleep and exercise.

When you choose to live at a Westminster community, you’ll have access to a plethora of well-being opportunities to exercise your mind and body. Learn more about the lifestyle you can enjoy and find the community near you today!

Nourish Your Brain: 5 Superfoods to Keep You Healthy

Do you want to keep your brain healthy and age gracefully? Eating the right food can make a big difference. We’re exploring five superfoods that can help you do just that. From fish to dark chocolate, read on to learn how you can incorporate these brain-boosting foods into your diet and reap the benefits of a healthier brain and body.

1. Fish

Fish are among the most important sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health. Omega-3s have been linked to improved cognitive health in several decades’ worth of research. Those who eat fish regularly tend to have more gray matter in their brains containing the nerve cells responsible for decision making and memory. Omega-3s can be found in a variety of fish including salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, herring and trout among other fish. A diet rich in omega-3 fats may help lower cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation throughout your body and promote muscle growth – all important aspects of staying healthy into our later years.

2. Berries

Berries are a superfood for brain health and healthy aging, with research linking regular consumption to lower risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attack plus possessing some brain-protecting qualities. The antioxidants found in berries can help protect the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, which can lead to cognitive decline as we age. Studies have shown that eating blueberries in particular may help improve memory, motor skills, balance and coordination. They’ve also been linked to improved moods and increased alertness.

Including berries as part of your daily diet is easy: try sprinkling them over your breakfast cereal or adding them to a smoothie for an extra boost of flavor and nutrition. Alternatively, you can simply enjoy them as is for a simple snack or dessert. Frozen berries make a great option too – just be sure to check the packaging for added sugar content before buying!

3. Leafy greens

Leafy greens are an essential part of a diet for brain health and healthy aging. Green vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, and collard greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals that have been found to be beneficial for cognitive health. They are also high in folate (or vitamin B9), which plays an important role in brain development and function.

The fiber content of leafy greens helps regulate glucose levels in the body by slowing down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream after eating carbohydrates. Fiber also supports cardiovascular health. Whether you enjoy them steamed or raw (in salads), adding more leafy greens into your daily diet is one way you can help ensure your brain stays healthy now and into the future.

4. Turmeric

Turmeric is a popular spice commonly used in Indian cuisine, and it has been gaining recognition for its many health benefits. This deep-yellow spice is packed with antioxidants that help to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. It also has anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce inflammation in the body and brain, while also protecting against age-related cognitive decline.

In addition to its neuroprotective effects, turmeric also helps to support cardiovascular health and helps regulate blood sugar levels – two factors which are important for optimal brain function. It is safe to consume daily either as an ingredient in food or as a supplement form (always check with your healthcare provider before adding any new supplements). Adding more turmeric into your diet on a regular basis could be one simple way to ensure you are getting all the benefits this powerful spice has to offer.

5. Nuts

Nuts provide a wealth of essential nutrients that help to protect the brain from damage, reduce inflammation, and improve cognitive function. Nuts contain healthy fats which can help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood, thus improving heart health. The antioxidants found in nuts also have anti-inflammatory properties which may contribute to improved memory and concentration.

Nuts are also a great source of protein and fiber, both of which play an important role in maintaining good mental health. A diet high in fiber is associated with lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression – all conditions that can affect brain health negatively over time. Eating just one or two handfuls of mixed nuts per day can significantly improve alertness and concentration throughout the day. Having a few servings each week will go a long way towards keeping your brain healthy now and into the future!

Enjoy Life to the Fullest with Nutritious Foods

Eating these superfoods regularly will help you achieve a healthier brain and body, allowing you to age gracefully and enjoy life to the fullest. Don’t feel like preparing these nutritious, brain healthy foods yourself? Residents at Westminster Life Plan Communities enjoy café style, grab-and-go and restaurant-style dining, all with nutritious and seasonal menus. Our talented dining team members design delectable menus highlighting seasonal, locally grown ingredients, and find opportunities to highlight cuisine from all around the world. Learn how you can enjoy our menus and find a community near you today!

Beat the Heat This Summer with Our Vocational Dimension of Well-Being

Westminster Communities of Florida believes that to be “well” you must consider the entire being: body, mind and spirit. We offer residents and team members an active and engaging lifestyle inspired by eight dimensions of holistic wellness. All summer we’ve been highlighting how you can take advantage of each of the eight dimensions of wellness to stay cool and active during the summer months, from physical well-being to spiritual wellness.

This final week, we’re focusing on our vocational dimension of well-being: staying active by finding new and fulfilling opportunities to remain engaged in our lives. Making use of your skills and abilities is a great way to stay engaged and active throughout the summer.

Keep up with your hobbies in the great outdoors — safely

Do you love to paint, bird-watch or take photos? Stick with them through the summer months, avoiding the peak of the heat: Paint en plein-air or bird-watch in the cool mornings. But keep in mind that it isn’t spring, and it’s important to stay safe and hydrated. Be sure to check on the local conditions before you go, and always bring a buddy or a group to stay safe. Don’t forget your water and sunscreen!

Try something you love but haven’t done before

Find a way to stay engaged in the summer months by finding something completely new. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but have never had the chance? The great indoors offers tons of opportunities: Learn to cook something new, take a pottery class, or even study a new language. Doing something different can help you gain new skills, meet new people and have a great time doing it. No matter what you choose, make sure it’s something that excites you and pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Become an art expert or a book collector

Libraries and museums are a great way to stay engaged in pleasant, air-conditioned spaces. Have you always wanted to read Anna Karenina or become an expert in Van Gogh’s unique paint strokes? You can find the engagement and resources you need to learn, with expert librarians and museum docents, who’d be happy to engage.

If you’re already an expert in these matters, consider volunteering at these organizations! You can lead a book-study group or even volunteer to be a docent yourself.

Help someone else out

During the summer months, the kids are out of school. Do you have a passion for teaching, subject matter expertise or a desire to help kids in need? Consider tutoring opportunities, help out at your local Big Brothers and Big Sisters club or inquire at your local school or public library about volunteer opportunities.

If you find you’d rather help adults in need, support furry friends, or help entrepreneurs launch new businesses, there are a variety of ways to lend a hand and be productive while staying indoors.

How to do it

You have a variety of fun ways to gain new skills, make use of your passion and meet new people while making a positive difference. But in the summer months, it’s important to stay safe.

Don’t forget our other tips on beating the heat this summer, emphasizing all eight dimensions of My W Life wellness. Learn all about it and find the Westminster community near you this summer and fall!

‘God put us here for a reason’: Serving the residents during Hurricane Idalia is part of our Mission

When a hurricane or tropical storm threatens Florida, like Hurricane Idalia this week, team members at Westminster Communities of Florida have a top priority: Ensuring the safety and well-being of the residents we serve. Our Mission is to serve from the heart and inspire older adults to enjoy happy, healthy and purposeful lives.

What impact has Hurricane Idalia had? Some of our dedicated team members are living out our Mission, today, by evacuating with residents or sheltering at their communities through the storm. Regardless of their normal jobs, their principal responsibility right now is to provide for the residents’ needs.

Today we caught up with five of these team members to learn about their experiences, why they chose to stay at their community or evacuate with residents, and what is inspiring them to stay hard at work during a storm.

Jackie Walker Ellison, Cook, Westminster Shores, temporarily at Westminster Winter Park

In St. Petersburg, Westminster Shores was forced to relocate residents out of the path of the storm. Jackie Walker Ellison always knew she would be with the residents, from the moment she first heard. “The residents said to me, ‘Jackie, are you coming with us? I know we’ll be OK if you come with us.’ So I had no doubt,” Ellison said. “I knew for sure I would be evacuating, I called my husband and my mother and I told them, ‘I’m going with my residents, I’ll see you whenever.’ ”

The group of 24 residents was accompanied by Ellison to Westminster Winter Park, where they’re enjoying the hospitality of the residents and team members there. The Westminster Shores team is occupied with providing for the needs of the residents during Hurricane Idalia. “I think it brings everyone together as a team,” she said.

Ellison has worked at Westminster Shores for 29 years, and “I love my residents. I wouldn’t have been here so long if I didn’t love this place and my residents. God put us here for a reason,” she said. “Right now, the residents are happy, we’ve been watching movies and playing games, and everything is going smoothly.”

Michele McCann, Assisted Living Activities Coordinator, Westminster Palms, sheltering in place

“I choose to be with the residents during the most emotional time, like a hurricane, because that’s my quality as a caregiver,” said Michele McCann, Assisted Living Activities Coordinator at Westminster Palms. “Challenging times like this bring out the best in people, and I get to see it and share it.”

McCann was sheltering in place at the community in St. Petersburg, along with residents from Westminster Palms and residents from Westminster Point Pleasant in Bradenton. She has lived in Florida for more than 7 years, and has experienced three hurricanes in St. Petersburg so far. McCann said she feels that the way the team bonds, whether through an evacuation or sheltering in place, makes the team stronger. “We are going to come out better on the other side of this! We always do. We are so lucky that we are here, in our home, together, instead of relocating like so many had to. I have come to feel like this is my home, too.”

Carlos Santiago, Maintenance Engineer, Westminster Point Pleasant and Tiffany Mestre, Administrative Assistant, Community Support Services, temporarily at Legacy Pointe at UCF

A group of residents from Westminster Point Pleasant were also with Maintenance Engineer Carlos Santiago and Tiffany Mestre, an administrative assistant at our Community Support Services office in Orlando. The residents had evacuated from Bradenton due to the risk of storm surge and flooding, and were enjoying the hospitality of Legacy Pointe at UCF.

Santiago, the maintenance engineer, said that he had been through the worst in 2017 when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. “We were there with no power for 60 days, and we weren’t able to do anything,” he said. By comparison, he felt that everything was under control and being well maintained for the residents through both of his hurricane experiences as a Westminster team member.

“This job is personal for me,” Santiago said. “The residents are my family and I want to make sure that they are well taken care of.” In 2022, Santiago was recognized as Westminster Point Pleasant’s Team Member of the Year for his dedicated service to the residents. He said it was his honor to serve the residents.

Evacuating with the residents is just another extension of his commitment to the community, Santiago said. “This is my second time evacuating with the residents, and it doesn’t matter how many more. I will always volunteer to be there for them. We are here for each other and for the residents.”

Countless storms had also affected Mestre, a Florida native. But she had never had an experience like today’s. “It’s wonderful to help the residents and hear about their interests and stories. This is a great way to see how the residents live,” Mestre said. “I am getting to know what a day in the life of a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and an ADON (Assistant Director of Nursing) are like. It has opened my eyes. Bless their souls for doing all of this.”

The effects of the storm had been mild in Orlando, but Mestre said that nevertheless, she and the residents felt more secure and had been brought closer together by the experience – and the residents were thankful for the security. “This has really brought our Mission to life for me in a way I had not experienced it,” said Mestre.

For Santiago, part of living in a hurricane zone meant more practice – and that he had found that the team is getting stronger through the experience. “The more we do this together, the more we become comfortable with each other, and the better organized we become. When you send a group of people together for one purpose and for our Mission, we get the opportunity to grow together and learn from each other,” said Santiago.

Beth Szabo, Services Coordinator, Riverside Presbyterian Apartments, sheltering in place

Another part of the Westminster Mission is to serve residents with low to moderate incomes, in our affordable Rental Retirement Communities. Beth Szabo, services coordinator at Riverside Presbyterian Apartments, was sheltering in place at the community to ensure that the residents were well cared for throughout the potential effects of the storm in Jacksonville.

“I’ve lived in Jacksonville since 1976, so I have lost count of how many hurricanes I’ve been through now. In 2004 they were coming so frequently we all said, ‘I’m over it, just let it go,’ ” said Szabo. “We have had to evacuate a few times over the years, like for Hurricane Matthew in 2016. But we did not have to this time.”

For Szabo, serving during a hurricane is a natural extension of her choice to work at the community, because the residents are like her extended family. “I have a heart for seniors, and the residents here mean a lot to me,” she said. “If something happens then I want to be here to help them.”

Szabo added that she feels safer riding out a storm at Riverside Presbyterian Apartments than at home. “Here at the community, I know that we have a great team looking out for everyone. We’re very small but we support each other.”

A facet of our Mission

While a hurricane is unexpected, serving the residents and supporting their fellow team members wherever we are and however we can is just another facet of the Mission of Westminster Communities of Florida: We serve from the heart and inspire older adults to enjoy happy, healthy and purposeful lives.

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