A groovy 1970s celebration marks 70 years at Westminster Oaks

Residents, team members and local civic leaders marked the occasion in celebration of the organization’s 70 years of serving older adults

TALLAHASSEE, June 7, 2024 – With a groovy 1970s-themed party with tie-dyed shirts and a special celebration by Tallahassee Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Richardson, Westminster Communities of Florida celebrated its 70th anniversary of serving older adults with more than 200 attendees and guests at Westminster Oaks.

The organization, first established as a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as Presbyterian Homes of the Synod of Florida, began its service when the Life Plan Community today known as Westminster Manor opened in 1961. Westminster Oaks, its fourth community, opened in 1982 and is now the organization’s largest community, set on more than 120 acres with more than 600 residents. Today Westminster Communities of Florida has 23 communities spanning the state of Florida, serving more than 7,000 residents with 2,300 team members.

The party featured a tie-dyed homage to the 1970s in celebration of the organization’s 70th anniversary, including live entertainment with songs from the ’70s, a caricature artist and a photo booth with real strips of printed photos.

Shannon Sauls, Executive Director of Westminster Oaks, thanked the attendees with a word of welcome. “I am very proud of what this community has accomplished and I am thankful that we are all here celebrating our organization’s success,” said Sauls. “Throughout our history, one thing remains constant: Our Mission. It has always been centered around serving older adults, since 1954.”

“We are here today to celebrate a milestone that not many organizations get to celebrate: 70 years,” said Chief Executive Officer Terry Rogers. “We have never slowed down, not for one day since then, growing and serving older adults. We are so proud that we have so many residents here today, and we are happy to have you here at Westminster Oaks.”

Mayor Pro Tem Richardson represented the City of Tallahassee in presenting his remarks of congratulations. “We cherish the relationship that we share with Westminster Oaks in providing services to our seniors. “Now I have just a few brief remarks of congratulations to make.” Richardson said. “Over the past seven decades, Westminster Communities of Florida has remained steadfast in its mission to enhance the lives of its residents. This celebration is not just a reflection of past achievements, but is also a reaffirmation of the values that drive this organization forward.”

Following the ceremony, residents, future residents and team members enjoyed an afternoon of live entertainment, resident art and history exhibits, and even outdoor axe-throwing. Attendees enjoyed a variety of delicious breakfast treats provided by the Westminster Oaks Dining Services team.

Westminster Communities of Florida, the state’s largest not-for-profit provider of active senior living, emphasizes whole-person wellbeing for its older adult residents. With communities in Bradenton, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Orlando, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Winter Park, the organization serves more than 7,000 residents statewide with a lifestyle featuring active living, wellness and lifelong learning.

Norma Christie King Balances Full-Time Job and Graduates with Honors from California Baptist University

Alongside her full-time duties as Administrative Coordinator for Affordable Housing & Clinical Services at Westminster Communities of Florida, Norma Christie King has achieved a significant milestone by graduating from California Baptist University. Her pursuit of higher education over the last two years was supported by Westminster’s Tuition Reimbursement Program.

Current team members who enroll in courses at accredited institutions can take advantage of the program’s reimbursement benefit, which supports those seeking to advance their careers. After a rigorous two-year period, taking four classes each semester online alongside her full-time job, Norma has now obtained a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership.

“At Westminster, there are opportunities for growth whether it be on-the-job training, learning from our high cadre of leaders, or through professional development at universities or community colleges,” Norma said. “The tuition reimbursement program helps cushion those stressful moments as you further your education!”

Despite the challenges of managing her studies and full-time employment, Norma’s consistently high grades each semester motivated her to keep up her efforts. Her dedication was recognized with her induction into the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society, honoring her academic excellence and leadership among her peers.

“Norma did a beautiful job of balancing her professional workload and her studies simultaneously,” said Westminster Communities of Florida Human Resources Manager Donna Seide. “She is an integral part of our organization, and her performance did not budge while she was studying for her degree.”

Norma actively engaged in dialogues about different ideas and strategies with Donna and fellow team members.

“I received support not only from the Tuition Reimbursement Program, but also from various people that if I had an assignment I was doing, I would ask, ‘What do you think of this?’” Norma said. “I could share my ideas and I would learn something.”

Norma started a degree in business administration in Jamaica but switched to an associate degree when her husband fell ill. Following her husband’s passing, Norma sought the academic program that best aligned with her goals. After thoughtful consideration and prayer, she began her studies in organizational leadership in January 2022, leveraging credits from her associate degree while continuing her full-time job.

“Norma is driven, dedicated, and motivated. She demonstrates a high level of professionalism and ensures that any project she is involved with is executed flawlessly,” Donna said. “Aside from being a wonderful professional and co-worker, Norma shines in her role as a mother to her adult son, Jaime.”

Thanks to the Tuition Reimbursement Program, both Norma and her son were able to attend her graduation ceremony in California. Embodying a spirit of relentless pursuit of knowledge, Norma shared her philosophy, “My head is always open – I want to know, I want to learn.”

Her advice to others? “Never stop learning. Upgrade yourself at all times. Your personal development is what you have,” Norma said. This mindset not only propelled her through her academic challenges but continues to inspire her professional growth and personal achievements.

If you are interested in joining the team at Westminster Communities of Florida, serving seniors throughout the state, and pursuing your professional development goals, explore the opportunities available at https://www.WestminsterCommunitiesFL.org/careers today!

Outdoor 1950s-themed party and City of Orlando proclamation mark Westminster Towers’ celebration of our organization’s 70th anniversary

ORLANDO, May 10, 2024 – With an outdoor, 1950s-themed party at Westminster Towers and a special proclamation of celebration from Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Westminster Communities of Florida celebrated its 70th anniversary of serving older adults with more than 100 attendees and guests at Westminster Towers.

The organization, first established as a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as Presbyterian Homes of the Synod of Florida, began its service when the Life Plan Community today known as Westminster Manor opened in 1961. Westminster Towers, its third community, was founded in 1975 and affiliated with Westminster Communities of Florida in 1980. Today Westminster Communities of Florida has 23 communities spanning the state of Florida, serving more than 7,000 residents with 2,300 team members.

The outdoor party featured a 1950s theme to celebrate the organization’s founding in 1954. A DJ played hits from the era, and a late-’50s vintage Bentley car was the centerpiece of a photo booth for participants to get a souvenir.

David Randazzo, Executive Director of Westminster Towers, thanked the attendees with a word of welcome. “Today’s celebration honors our current residents, as well as the countless lives we have touched over the last 70 years,” said Randazzo. “Not only that, but there are many exciting things in store for the future.”

“I hope that today you will congratulate yourselves, too,” said Chief Executive Officer Terry Rogers. “To be around for 70 years is a huge accomplishment for our organization that was made possible by our Board of Directors and all of the stakeholders, especially residents like all of you. When you put it all together, our organization has had the opportunity to touch thousands and thousands of lives.”

Commissioner Sheehan brought a special Proclamation from the City of Orlando. “I am delighted to be here this morning and to see all of you here,” Sheehan said. In reading the Proclamation, Sheehan said that on behalf of herself and Mayor Buddy Dyer, “We… do hereby proclaim May 10, 2024, as Westminster Communities of Florida 70th Anniversary Day.”

Attendees also enjoyed an invocation by the Rev. Dr. Walk Jones, a chaplain who formerly served at Westminster Towers, and benediction from Rev. Dr. Paul Gibson, Associate Minister at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. The event program featured highlights of the history of downtown Orlando by Rachel Williams from the Orange County Regional History Center, and congratulatory remarks from Resident Council President Gene Shoaf.

Following the ceremony, residents, future residents and team members enjoyed a morning of outdoor live entertainment and games at the community’s brand-new outdoor patio. Attendees enjoyed a variety of delicious breakfast treats provided by the Westminster Towers Dining Services team.

Westminster Communities of Florida, the state’s largest not-for-profit provider of active senior living, emphasizes whole-person wellbeing for its older adult residents. With communities in Bradenton, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Orlando, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Winter Park, the organization serves more than 7,000 residents statewide with a lifestyle featuring active living, wellness and lifelong learning.

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Sallie Amato

Sallie Amato, a resident at Westminster Towers, holds the distinction of being one of the pioneering 18,000 women who served in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II. Following her high school graduation, she worked as a telephone operator at an Army paratrooper camp. It was a poster that read, “Be a marine. Free a marine to fight,” that inspired her to enlist. At the age of 20, she enlisted and was stationed at Camp Lejune. After completing boot camp, she was assigned to the Field Music School, and became a bugler while taking on responsibilities at the headquarters company. Now 100 years old, Mrs. Amato takes a moment to reflect on her Marine Corps experience and shares some valuable insights for women aspiring to join the field, in honor of Women’s History Month.

How do you feel that the landscape in your field has changed for women who are wanting to pursue a similar role/position?

In my limited knowledge of what I hear and what I see today, sometimes the females are not respected. I think the Commandant and other people who are responsible try, but they are fighting against a very large group of men who do not respect women. It does not make any difference that the woman is wearing a Marine Corps uniform and proud to be of service. They take advantage of her weaknesses and this is televised, published, and made it even more hurtful for the women in uniform. I don’t know what can be done about that if anything. I think women really need to learn to protect themselves. That’s my feeling but I want to say that I’m so grateful because my service was during war time and we were respected for doing our job.

What do you think your field needs to be doing now to continue to advance women wanting to pursue a similar career?

At this point, I can only be an observer. Please, be grateful for those women who give their heart. They didn’t do this lightly. They didn’t do this to go get married. Some people look at them and say, “Oh, she’s joining the service to find a husband.” It’s not true. In their hearts, they love this country and they have enlisted or volunteered and they should be respected for volunteering and giving their young life.
Also, they should take advantage of the education that is offered to them. When I was discharged, I had choices. I could go to college on the G.I. Bill and the airlines were looking for women who had served in the military because they had dealt with people. I went to Radford College. At that time, it was the women’s division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in Blacksburg, Virginia. I didn’t have a lot of time allotted to me on the G.I. Bill, so the school and the professors worked with me and in 16 months I earned my bachelor’s degree in science and education.

What advice would you offer to younger women who may be interested in pursuing a career in your given field?

If possible, talk to someone who is serving now. Think about where you may be living. Know what the conditions will be. Where will you be living? If you join the Navy, will you be aboard a ship? Do you get seasick? Know in your heart why you want to join a particular branch of the service. Why are you doing this? What do you want to do after you do this? What do you want to do with that career? Because this is a career the same as going to college and if you are young enough and have the ambition, go enlist in a branch of the service. Get enough time to have your education paid for by the government. You serve the government, the government will serve you. It doesn’t take long and then you can have a career for the rest of your life even if you hope to be, or maybe already may be married, you’ll also need to have a career. Whether you use it or not, it is a very wise thing.

Can you share a memory of yours were you felt that the women that you were working with, stood together to overcome the challenges that are associated with being a woman in your given field?

The thing that pops into my mind are the religious women. I made a friend with a devout Catholic. She didn’t push her faith on me, we talked. She seemed to want to share her faith and I wanted to listen. There were other women who were part of other denominations – they wanted to share. It may be surprising to know how many of the women who were in the Marine Corps were devout Christians. There were also Jewish women and other denominations and groups of people. For those of us who were Protestant, we talked. In fact, the chapel was next door, right beside the flagpole.

After sounding my bugle calls, I would go in and talk to the chaplain who was Catholic. I asked him a lot of questions about Catholicism. He was never too busy to answer my questions. One day he said to me, “Sallie, if you ever want to be baptized Catholic, even though you’ve been baptized before, the Catholics ask that you be baptized Catholic. If there is a time that you want to do that, tell me.” Well, over those months that we became friends, I asked him a lot of questions and then there was the time that I said, “Yes, I really would like to be baptized Catholic.” And so he made the arrangements to go to the cathedral in downtown Washington and I was baptized Catholic. That was something that happened while I was a Marine in service. I am still a Marine and I’m still Catholic!

Westminster Shores Residents Lead the Way: 68 AEDs Installed at Westminster Communities

What started as an idea from Westminster Shores residents Geni and Jack Vanek has resulted in the installation of 68 Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) across all of Westminster Communities of Florida’s Life Plan Communities and Rental Retirement Communities.

Thanks to the passion they showed for the project and the generosity of previous donors, the Westminster Communities Foundation contributed more than $90,000 from the unrestricted fund to install AEDs in independent living common spaces.

“It really was a community effort,” Geni said. “And now it’s the standard… for all of Westminster.”

DeeLynn Rivinius, Director of Philanthropy at Westminster Shores, acknowledged the pivotal role played by Geni and Jack, emphasizing, “If it hadn’t been for their passion and commitment, I don’t know that this project would have had quite the effect.”

Vice President of Philanthropy at Westminster Communities Foundation Jeff Coates noted that this project shows how the Foundation is able and willing to support projects that are of great benefit across the entire organization.

“It’s one of those rare projects that we’re able to do not just for one community but for every community we have in the Westminster family,” Jeff said.

SAFETY FOR RESIDENTS AND BEYOND

The portable, battery powered, semi-automatic external defibrillator uses voice prompts and visual icons to guide the user through a cardiac arrest rescue. The device will analyze the electrocardiograph (ECG) rhythm of the patient and detect whether rhythm would respond to shock or not.

“It’s intended to help individuals that are having sudden cardiac arrest or a heart event,” DeeLynn said. She noted that while many hope the AEDs get very little use, just seeing them around the community brings her comfort.

“I walk by one of the AED machines every day and it just warms my heart,” DeeLynn said. “Heart events have no bearing on age. It can happen to anyone at any time, so it’s really reassuring.”

Jeff further emphasized that the AED installation offers an enhancement to the safety and well-being of all individuals within the community, regardless of their role or relationship to the residents.

“Think about the amount of family members that come through our communities and the number of team members that are in the communities. It’s not just a couple hundred residents that live there,” Jeff said. “It could be anybody at any given time.”

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE SPARKS ACTION

The Vanek’s moved to Westminster Shores, our Life Plan Community in the Bahama Shores neighborhood of St. Petersburg, in the beginning of 2021 and have been active participants in the community.

“They are individuals with a very philanthropic mission,” DeeLynn said. “They were both very passionate about this project and it made good sense for the health and well-being of our communities statewide.”

“For me it’s very personal,” Jack said. While having lunch with his father at a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Ohio after completing a 24-hour shift as a physician, a gentleman at the next table had a cardiac event.

“I had people call 9-1-1 and told them to bring me a defibrillator and to get a nurse – somebody to help me,” Jack said. “He needed CPR, and I started it on him, but no one came to help me and there was no defibrillator.” After Jack said what felt like hours but was probably only 10 minutes, emergency medical services arrived. They shocked the gentleman, and his heart came right back. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital and died two hours later.

“I can’t help but wonder if he would have had a much better chance if I could have shocked him immediately,” Jack said. “That is something that is etched in my memory. I don’t want to see that ever again.”

After hearing Jack’s personal experience, Jeff said it brought the need to life.

“It made it a no-brainer from the Foundation’s perspective because it’s core to what we do and what we should be providing to our communities,” Jeff said.

LIFE-SAVING COLLABORATION

Westminster Communities of Florida is partnering with the American Red Cross, local fire departments and other companies that conduct the standard CPR training with an AED module to train team members and residents.

“Team Members can be trained, and we also encourage residents who might be interested to get the same training. They would then be able to use the device or provide CPR, if they wish,” said Jim Polaski, Senior Vice President of Operations for Westminster Communities of Florida.

The AEDs are being placed in independent living commons areas at Westminster communities, where people gather in numbers or in proximity to those areas where people gather.

“You would still call 9-1-1 for an emergency response, and we’re blessed that at our locations the emergency responders have a great response time,” Jim said. “They would come in and take over after that.”

Geni noted that the local fire department that conducted the training at Westminster Shores is the same group that would respond if residents called 9-1-1, and that their training went very well.

“What most people verbalized is that it’s a lot of work!” Geni said. “CPR takes a lot of pressure and you’re tired by the end. If you can have more than one person there – one to call 9-1-1, one to push and one to relieve you – the more people that can respond, the better!”

ENHANCING OPPORTUNITIES WITH LOVED ONES

What Jim stressed is that the entire project is a response to a resident request. “We’re very grateful to the resident committee at Westminster Shores for discussing the details of how the program looks, and to the Westminster Communities Foundation for supporting this cause and making it easy to implement,” he said.

The implementation of the AED program not only provides a sense of security but also offers the possibility of more precious moments with family members.

“I think what most people want is the best chance to continue to see their grandchildren and their children and that’s what it really comes down to for me,” Jack said. “If it doesn’t work, I understand. It’s a difficult thing and it doesn’t always work, but if it works and I get to see my kids and grandkids again, that’s what I want to see. That’s what I want for everybody, as simple as that.”

To learn more about resident initiatives that make a difference at Westminster communities, find a location near you today!

Hard Work Pays Off: Adriana Cevallos Earns Bachelor’s Degree While Working Full-Time

Adriana Cevallos, the Administrator at Magnolia Towers, a rental retirement community in Orlando, has recently achieved a significant milestone by earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Polk State College in Winter Haven. Balancing full-time work with higher education is no easy task, but Adriana’s determination and hard work have paid off.
Alex Mookerjee, Executive Director of Housing and Rental Retirement Services, describes Adriana as smart, hardworking, and mission-oriented. “She’s also always looking to learn and do better,” Alex said. “I just really am so proud of her for doing this.”

After joining the Westminster Communities of Florida family in 2022, Adriana, who had a background in hospitality, decided to take on the dual responsibility of working as Administrator full-time while simultaneously pursuing her degree.

“It has been tough, I cannot lie,” Adriana admitted. “But I feel that it is a blessing that it’s finally done and that I was able to do it.”

Alex acknowledges the difficulty of working full-time in a position that requires being on call constantly. “We certainly work more than the hours say we’re supposed to work so it was quite an accomplishment,” Alex said.

Adriana made a commitment to Westminster to finish her degree, and she credits her success to her dedication and the support she received from her team and peers. “I received a lot of encouragement and love,” Adriana shared. “The position itself and the opportunity that Westminster gave me has been a blessing.”

Adriana’s accomplishment not only represents a personal triumph but also serves as an inspiring example for others. Since graduating, Adriana has been a source of support for her team, encouraging them to pursue career advancement opportunities and take advantage of resources for career advancement opportunities that Westminster offers including the Tuition Reimbursement Program and Team Member Scholarship Fund.

“Westminster offers the opportunity to grow and learn and they are always open,” Adriana emphasized.

“If you invest in your people it pays down the road,” Alex said. “The more we can do to invest in our people the better off we all are. Happy employees means happy residents.”

If you are interested in joining the team at Westminster Communities of Florida, serving seniors throughout the state, and pursuing your personal passion, explore the opportunities available at https://www.WestminsterCommunitiesFL.org/careers today!

Fitch Ratings Reaffirms Westminster’s A- Bond Rating

We’re pleased to announce that Fitch Ratings recently reaffirmed Westminster Communities of Florida’s A- bond rating, an excellent investment-grade rating that is a reflection of our commitment to good stewardship of our resources, as inspired by our Mission. In these challenging times, we’re proud to say a Westminster community is still a strong partner for the future for residents and their families and team members.

In the view of Fitch Ratings, Westminster’s strength is having sound operating principles and a diverse portfolio of communities. Fitch wrote, “The ‘A-‘ rating reflects the expected resilience of (Westminster Communities of Florida’s) financial profile through Fitch’s forward-looking scenario analysis, given its robust business profile, which is characterized by very strong revenue defensibility as a multi-campus, regionally diverse life plan community (LPC), and sound operating and capital metrics.”

View the entire press release below.

Celebrating Myrna and Merle Allshouse – A Legacy of Helping Others

The Westminster Communities Foundation is honored to recognize longtime residents Myrna and Merle Allshouse for a generous $50,000 bequest to the Suncoast community’s Benevolent Assistance Program. 

Myrna and Merle’s children, Kim and Scott, join us in celebrating this gift by sharing, “Our parents were deeply committed to the importance of community throughout their lives. It was that sense of community that brought them to Westminster. They were strong supporters of arts and education, values that were shared by many of their friends in the larger Westminster Suncoast community and particularly by those who were affiliated with the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC).  Through their gift, they wanted to provide the opportunity for others to have the joy and comfort they found in living in the Westminster community.”

Merle was a lifelong scholar and educator retired from Eckerd College in 2002. Upon his retirement, he continued to learn through classes at the University of South Florida in geology, politics and Florida history.  Known to his friends as a “gentlemen scholar” he was also an avid boater and amateur pilot.  Merle passed in April 2016 while residing at Westminster Suncoast.

Myrna succeeded in two careers, first as a mother to two children and then in the insurance industry.  In retirement she became a talented watercolor artist who often shared her passion by encouraging others to pick up a brush and paint alongside of her.  In 2021, she moved to Montpelier, VT to be closer to her family, but she fondly remembered her time at Westminster Suncoast.  Throughout their lives, Myrna and Merle most valued advocating for social justice, art and education, but their dedication to these values in retirement was truly inspiring. Myrna passed in September 2023.

The Westminster Communities Foundation received Myrna’s bequest in support of the Suncoast community. The Foundation provided $1.25 million last year in Benevolent Assistance for residents who have outlived their resources. Currently, more than fifty Westminster residents benefit from benevolent assistance support. Jeff Coates, Vice President of Philanthropy, said that “being able to help our neighbors and friends continue to live in their communities, regardless of their resources, would not be possible without the enduring support of caring, generous people like Myrna and Merle. We are eternally grateful for their support and the legacy they left at Westminster.”

To learn more about or donate to the Foundation contact: Tish Burke at (727) 867-1131

 Since 1974, Benevolent Assistance at Westminster Communities of Florida has been 100% funded by donors to the Westminster Communities Foundation.

Westminster Communities of Florida enters into affiliation agreement with Florida Presbyterian Homes

Life Plan Community in Lakeland, Fla., will become part of the not-for-profit organization with 23 communities throughout Florida

ORLANDO, August 25, 2023 — Westminster Communities of Florida, the largest not-for-profit senior living provider in Florida, has entered into an affiliation agreement with Florida Presbyterian Homes, a Life Plan Community in Lakeland, Fla. The agreement is contingent upon various state and federal approvals.

Westminster Communities of Florida will make Florida Presbyterian Homes part of its mission and ministry of creating and preserving excellent residential and health care communities. The community will benefit from the expertise, fiscal strength and stability of the nation’s 11th-largest not-for-profit senior living organization.

Westminster Communities of Florida Chief Executive Officer Terry Rogers said, “We’re honored and delighted to be welcoming Florida Presbyterian Homes into the Westminster family, and to extend our mission of service to their residents.”

The two organizations have much in common, including a shared mission of service to our residents. Westminster’s mission is to serve from the heart and inspire older adults to live happy, healthy and purposeful lives. As faith-based organizations serving older adults, our mission is at the core of all that we do, including emphasizing well-being and active lifestyles, honoring each individual’s dignity and independence, and good stewardship of our resources. Westminster Communities of Florida is pleased to hold an investment-grade bond rating of A- from Fitch Ratings.

Rogers said that Westminster is continuing to seek partners for other potential affiliations. “We have a saying that ‘bigger isn’t better, stronger is better.’ We have expanded our mission over our nearly 70-year history to more older adults through affiliating with other quality mission-driven organizations. Our family of communities is stronger together.”

Joe Xanthopoulos, Chief Executive Officer of Florida Presbyterian Homes, said, “This affiliation makes perfect sense for both organizations. Florida Presbyterian Homes has long held and well-deserved positive reputation here in Lakeland, one of the fastest growing cities in the country. This affiliation with Westminster positions our organization to best meet the needs and ambitions of present and future residents for decades to come.”

The affiliation agreement is contingent upon receiving approvals from federal and state agencies. Management by Westminster Communities of Florida is anticipated to begin in September. Details of the transaction have not been released.

Florida Presbyterian Homes and Westminster Communities of Florida look forward to continued service to our residents and furthering our shared mission of service.

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About Westminster Communities of Florida: Westminster Communities of Florida is a faith-based, not-for-profit organization serving more than 7,000 residents in 22 communities throughout Florida who are in search of an enlightened, fully integrated, person-centered approach to health and wellness. Since 1954, we’ve been Florida’s best choice in active senior living. Our Mission of service commits us to creating and preserving excellent active living communities and honoring each person’s dignity, rights, self-respect and independence.

About Florida Presbyterian Homes: Since 1955, Florida Presbyterian Homes has been serving older adults seeking high quality living options, life enriching programs and services, best in practice long-term and rehabilitative care, and an array of exceptional resident amenities, all at our beautiful Lake Hunter campus. Florida Presbyterian Homes is a not-for-profit life plan community whose ministry is to serve older adults from all faiths with holistic, compassionate care and support in maintaining independence and achieving greater wellness.

Women’s History Month: An Interview With Two Refugee Team Members

To date, Westminster Communities of Florida’s special program to employ refugees, in partnership with Lutheran Services Florida, has brought more than 40 new team members to our organization. The program began in 2021, supporting refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine along with their families and children. In total, we have arranged housing for more than 100 people, and residents and team members have embraced them as members of the Westminster family.

This Women’s History Month, we are pleased to highlight the contributions of women to organizations like ours from all around the world. We spoke with Venus Raoufi and Lesia Yarova, two of the more than 100 people supported by the refugee program and new team members at Westminster Point Pleasant, about their experience and observations about equality in the workplace.

Venus Raoufi, Maintenance Assistant, Westminster Point Pleasant, and former law student in Afghanistan

Before the fall of Kabul, Venus Raoufi was studying to become a law student, and said that it was difficult to be a woman working and studying in Afghanistan. “You had to deal with… those who did not want women to study. Not just me, but all women who studied in Afghanistan were very worried about their lives,” she said.

When the Taliban stormed into Kabul, she and her family fled to Tampa Bay. Her brother , Noman, was a translator for U.S. and NATO armed forces.

After days of waiting and fighting for a spot on a U.S. military plane, then arriving in Virginia, – the Raoufi family was placed with Lutheran Services Florida, a resettlement agency in Tampa. The Raoufi family was the first family to be resettled by Westminster Communities of Florida, and she and her family of five siblings and their parents now work for Westminster Point Pleasant and Westminster Manor in Bradenton.

Venus said the residents and team members at Westminster Point Pleasant have helped her and her family get accustomed. “They gave us housing, work, and also provide us with ESOL classes, which is a really effective way for us to improve our lives and start a new life here,” Venus said.

Venus set aside studying law and began studying computer engineering at State College of Florida in hopes of becoming a computer programmer. “I would like to work producing video games,” Venus said.
As someone who fled her home country from persecution, Venus is acutely aware of how important the equal rights of men and women are. “It is so important that women and men should be treated equally, because if they are treated equally, they can work together and think about their future without any worrying,” she said. “You can also see the importance of education. Most people here are educated. In my country, most people are not educated. This difference is really big, because people who are not educated do not know about equality, they do not know how to treat people fairly and do not know the importance of education.”

“One of the problems in Afghanistan now is that no one raised their voices to gain their rights, and the Taliban can impose their rules on them,” Venus said. “If people in Afghanistan were educated, I think they would raise their voice to try to gain their rights.”

Lesia Yarova, Westminster Point Pleasant Housekeeper, formerly a television makeup artist in Ukraine
In Ukraine, before the war, Lesia was working as a television makeup artist in Kiev, her profession for more than 20 years. She and her son, Timofey, 9, fled the invasion along with millions of Ukrainians, and relocated to Bradenton thanks to Westminster’s partnership with Lutheran Services Florida.

Lesia said that before the war, in Ukraine men and women had the same rights. Being in the United States has shown her that there are still differences, and that there is still room for more equitable treatment in both countries. “One difference I see here is that men do not give flowers to women on March 8 [International Women’s Day], as is customary in Ukraine,” Lesia said. “They do that here on Valentine’s Day instead.”

Speaking with the aid of a translation app on her phone, Lesia said that the war has been nothing short of a tragedy for her home country. “Of course, for us all, it was a tragedy what happened in our country. I still want to cry, because our children saw and felt it for themselves, too,” said Lesia, looking somber.
Working at Westminster has been very different from working in television, but Lesia is grateful to team members and residents for helping her through it. “The work [as a housekeeper] is not easy, and this is very new to me. But I’m a new person in this country and I have found people very welcoming,” she said. “The people who work next to me play a huge role. They are very friendly and kind, as well as the residents here, they are also very nice.”

For Lesia, the hardest challenge is learning English. “Not speaking the language is very difficult, maybe the most difficult thing,” Lesia said. “Another challenge was to find housing, because it is very difficult here, it turns out, to find housing, especially if you do not have enough money for the first and last month’s payments.”

Lutheran Services Florida has been a tremendous aid to Lesia and her family, because the agency has someone who is Ukrainian and speaks their language, and can assist them with the American system of documentation and paperwork.

She hopes that the end of the war will allow them to return to their homes one day and go back to her profession. “For now, I am very appreciative for having a job and having housing, and for the support of Westminster,” she said.

Lesia noted that in some ways men and women are more equal in the United States than she had found in Ukraine. “For example, at my age, in Ukraine it would have already been difficult for me to find a job,” she said. “I really like that it is more equal here.”

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