Why Watermark Communities Are Bankrolling Local Kids

Intergenerational programs among senior housing communities are a popular hit with residents and surrounding communities, providing benefits in many ways and taking shape in several forms. One senior housing provider is opening up about the way it funds and runs its efforts to support local kids, and what the company and its residents gain from it.

Watermark Retirement Communities, one of the largest senior housing providers in the country, has forged a new path to connect with other generations and give back to its wider communities.

The program, Watermark for Kids, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered and chartered in Arizona, Watermark’s headquarters.

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Each Watermark community has the opportunity to partake in the program, sponsoring kids who seek an award or by helping with fundraising events to raise resources for more children to participate in the program. So far, 2,250 “Watemark Kids” have participated in the program.

Every year, the program grows, according to Jill Hofer, who oversees the Watermark for Kids program. As of October 2015, there were 75 kids in the current program receiving awards, which range from funding for sports, art classes, musical instruments, support for a prom night, voice lessons, a school trip to Washington, D.C., laptops and even circus camp.

Communities hold their own fundraisers to fund awards for kids selected into the program. Watermark at Rosewood Gardens in California even puts on its own “yappy hour,” with a dog contest and other activities, for a fee.

“We have communities doing it in their own way, doing it however the spirit moves them,” Jill Hofer, who oversees Watermark for Kids and is the director of communications for Watermark, told Senior Housing News. “They have their own fundraisers. They are the ones that come forward with their recommendations for kids in their area.”

“Although the communities do local fundraisers and efforts, wherever there are Watermark communities, there are Watermark kids,” says Hofer.

The program is also supported by a general fund that is raised in the Tucson office, Hofer explains. With a general fund that all communities can draw from if they are in need to cover the expense of an award, the program is able to thrive.

“That fund is also available for use by our communities because they may or may not have the funds for each award as they come,” Hofer said. “We’ll always make sure that we have the support here for them. It’s about awarding kinds and keeping this program vibrant in the communities much more so than the fundraising.”

The general fund is bolstered by corporate fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament in Arizona and silent auction. Watermark associates also have the opportunity to contribute to awards directly through payroll deductions, according to Hofer.

Unlike most non-profits, all proceeds from fundraising go directly toward awards for kids. Overhead costs for the non-profit are limited to director’s and officer’s insurance expenses, which are absorbed by Watermark Retirement Communities, according to Hofer.

The program is also housed within the senior living provider’s Tucson corporate office. While Hofer heads the non-profit and the Watermark for Kids program, she is also the director of communications and public relations for the parent company and is based in the Tuscon office. As a result, Watermark is able to absorb any overhead costs by keeping its non-profit in-house.

By keeping costs minimal and utilizing only a digital brochure, the program has been able to grow alongside CEO David Barnes’ original vision of giving 100% of a donation to a Watermark award.

For the company, involving the residents is a crucial part of the program and brings in some of the core values of all Watermark communities.

“The residents love to be a part of the program,” says Hofer. “They want to support and inspire kids and help uplift the next generation. They’re always generous with their time and talents, working on fundraisers, baking, hosting the kids at their presentations. It really injects more fun and color and life and vibrance to the communities for residents.”

Written by Amy Baxter

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