Brandywine Living CEO Brenda Bacon is focused on the next iteration of intergenerational living — but to achieve it, she is going back to her roots and taking inspiration from a slightly older way of life.
With its most recent intergenerational development in the D.C.-area market of North Bethesda, Maryland, Brandywine is aiming to connect people of all generations. In the past, senior living communities might have done this through cross-programming with a daycare or local school. But Bacon believes the future of intergenerational senior living lies in fostering much more organic meetings between people.
Instead of purpose-built interactions and programmed meetings, Bacon believes next-generation intergenerational communities will operate much like a thriving neighborhood block did in the not-too-distant past.
“If you think back on how most of us grew up in neighborhoods, there would be older and younger people … people would have all different kinds of jobs and occupations and would go to different schools — there would be a definition of neighborhood,” Bacon said during an appearance at the 2022 Senior Housing News BUILD conference in Chicago.
More specifically, Bacon envisions senior living communities woven into the fabric of daily living. It’s a concept other senior living operators have embraced in recent years in an attempt partly to cater to the preferences of the baby boomer generation.
“The baby boomers are just not going to be accepting of the ‘it’s Tuesday, therefore you do this, this and this,’ — that just won’t happen,” Bacon said. “All of us need to find ways to make sure that there are lots of choices; that there’s real engagement, laughter and fun.”
Brandywine Living has a senior living portfolio composed of 32 communities.
‘Natural and not forced’
A growing number of senior living companies such as Brandywine are warming to the idea of bringing multiple generations together under one roof. Mt. Laurel, New Jersey-based Brandywine has been involved in intergenerational projects in Philadelphia and Southern Delaware.
However, these projects are far from a large segment of the market. And Bacon said executing that overall vision can be tricky.
“I think the biggest challenge is to make it natural and not forced,” Bacon said.
Brandywine is aiming to execute that vision in its Maryland development that will combine a 145-bed assisted living community with 125 single-family townhomes built by developer EYA. The site is located on a plot of land owned by Sisters of the Holy Cross and is adjacent to all-girls’ Catholic high school –, something that Brandywine Living CEO Brenda Bacon hopes will enrich the lives of everyone in the community. For her, the inspiration is her neighborhood growing up.
“We’re actually going to build programs and things that they can do together,” Bacon said. “Not forcing, not regimented, but purposely having reasons to be together — all ages and occupations, gender, race, all of that. This is your neighborhood.”
In terms of how the community will interact with its neighbors, Bacon envisions a community where the old mentor the young and people help each other through the bad times while celebrating the good times together.
“We’re all together, walking the same streets, going to the same parks, enjoying the same outdoor concerts,” she said. “You learn a lot from interacting with people just on the spot, walking down the street … I want it to be that kind of situation.”
The community is planned to have formal programming that will bring students from the nearby all-girls school into the assisted living community. Another goal with the North Bethesda project is to expand intergenerational interaction beyond what it has been at the company’s communities in Philly and Delaware.
“We haven’t done as much purposeful programming in those communities, which is why we’re going to do more purposeful programming here,” she said. “There’s more to be gained if we can help create situations that will develop those relationships.”
The Covid-19 pandemic taught senior residents how helpful technology can be to create and maintain relationships. Bacon envisions a scenario where high school students or other local younger people help seniors find and use new technology.
And for students at the Academy of the Holy Cross, guidance is a two-way street, and Bacon — an alumnus of another all-girls Catholic high school in the D.C. area — thinks there is a lot to be learned with residents that include lawyers, doctors, teachers and those with careers in the federal government.
“For the high school girls who are trying to get ready to go to college and trying to pick careers, they have people who are very accomplished who can informally mentor them, like the guy down the street used to mentor you when you were growing up,” Bacon said.
New era for senior living
As she looks ahead to 2023, Bacon believes that the senior living industry is poised on the precipice of a new era, and that Brandywine will be among those in the sector pushing forward.
She has gone on public record in the past that the senior living industry is “not going back” to its old ways of doing things, and is leading the company accordingly. Bacon noted during a panel discussion at the 2022 NIC Fall Conference, that fewer than one-fifth of Brandywine’s current customer base is in their 70s, so “we’ll have a while still before the baby boomers come.”
She sees two big challenges on the horizon for the year-ahead: interest rates and the cost of new development; and the push to ever-greater occupancy. Both will require a new approach in her view.
“People will take a different approach toward building new buildings at this time; maybe be a little bit more cautious because we have our hands full with a lot of other things,” Bacon said.
As for growing Brandywine’s intergenerational model, Bacon believes such communities can work in any market or location, provided operators are up to the challenge of bringing young and old together.
“People need different amounts of interaction, but everybody needs interaction with other human beings,” she said.