At 81, Lavinia Walker has become a better leader. Walker is copresident, along with Catherine Trish, of the residents’ association at B’nai B’rith Federation House in South Orange, a 65-unit apartment building for independent seniors. She spent July 25-31 at B’nai B’rith’s Perlman Camp in Starlight, Pa., in the Poconos on a senior leadership retreat sponsored by B’nai B’rith International.
Walker and 31 other seniors from around the country attended workshops and discussed ways to involve residents in more activities.
“I shared some of the programs that have been successful here, like our fashion shows and ziti dinners,” said Walker, a resident since 1993 of the B’nai B’rith House, which is owned and operated by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey. “The facilitators were terrific. They discussed the definition of a leader — someone who is not a dictator and lets the group make decisions through consensus — and how to get more people involved.”
Discussions also focused on the Internet and that many seniors feel uncomfortable going online. Facilitators offered a list of websites they felt would benefit both their associations and newsletters.
“We already do many of the things they suggested at the retreat for keeping people busy and active,” Walker said. “But there were some good ideas thrown out. For example, one group did a health fair and brought in various specialists to discuss health issues.”
The first workshop focused on building leadership skills and has inspired Walker to write a constitution for B’nai B’rith House. Walker believes the role of president needs to be redefined. “The president serves as a liaison between residents and management,” Walker told NJJN, “but there are no problems because they take such good care of us. We’re more centered on entertainment.”
The second workshop, Walker’s favorite, focused on communication and included tips for accommodating individuals who are hard of hearing. Before retiring, Walker worked at Sickle Photo-Reporting, a now defunct photojournalism company based in Maplewood.
The third workshop focused on diversity, a key part of the retreat as so many participants had varied racial backgrounds. Walker, a Christian, told NJJN she particularly enjoyed this session and that she has a “great appreciation for my Jewish heritage, my spiritual roots.”
Participants also connected with young campers attending the Perlman Camp for the summer, taking dance lessons together and sharing some meals.
B’nai B’rith, the largest Jewish sponsor of federally subsidized housing for the elderly in the country, refers to the retreat as a unique blend of structured training and a summer camp experience.
“The retreat was an excellent experience and well worth my time,” Walker said.