Naming, or renaming things, changes them. It defines them. Names can determine our character and our future. Native Americans named their children after observing something that happened at the time of their birth thus: Running Deer, Kneeling Bull, or New Moon. Nicknames bestowed on us by our friends often highlight some aspect of our strengths or character, often forcing us to live up to the name. Biblical and religious names are carefully chosen in order to ensure an infant lives up to their destiny—God instructed Mary and Joseph what to call their son, and throughout the Bible told characters what to name their children. Names are powerful things, capable of changing a person, or even a building.
On Saturday Oct. 5, Kissito renamed Hawthorne Towers, once a name synonymous with crime, filth, decay and poverty. They christened the towers “Kissito Village,” a name Kissito CEO Tom Clarke equates with community, hope, security and family.
Clarke told a group of approximately 50 residents that the name was taken from Kissito’s work in Africa.
“We’ve learned from Africa that it takes a village to accomplish anything of importance,” he said. “So that’s why we’re calling this Kissito Village. It will take all of us to make this our village our home.”
Clarke also explained that Kissito’s experiences around the world suggest there are better ways of caring for the frail elderly, disabled and financially challenged in America, other than through institutional settings such as nursing homes. The 1884 house was Kissito’s first Roanoke venture into affordable housing. They’re also working with the University of Texas and Harris Health System to establish a community-based program of care for the elderly in the Riverside District of the City of Houston. They closed on the purchase of Hawthorne Towers, making Kissito Village their next community based project. The property will be senior friendly but not age restricted. Rent is expected to be around HUD levels $345/month before utilities.
While not all elders can be safely cared for in a community setting, a significant number of those currently institutionalized want to—and could thrive in the community, if adequate services were available to them. Clarke said Kissito has learned that institutionalization rates can be half of the U.S. average with the right programs and housing in place.
Residents agreed, cheering, clapping and jumping up to ask questions and engage with Clarke and John Surprenant, the CEO of JMS Building, the company doing the Kissito Village building renovations.
Deborah Williams smiled, laughed, clapped her hands and wiped tears from her eyes as Clarke spoke. She said she loved the idea of the building being a village. Williams doesn’t currently live in the building, but her brother, George Turner, has been a resident for seven years. She visits him regularly. Both she and her other brother, Richard Turner, want to move into the building as well. The move would not only provide affordable housing, it would bring their family together again, proof that Kissito Village was living up to its new name.
Williams was a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Salem Health Nursing Home for eight years. She said she was laid off due to a disability and now spends much of her time visiting her brother George at the building.
Elizabeth Wright, a very elderly Kissito Village resident sitting with Williams, and Shapla Maden, a 22-year-old woman were happy to hear that every unit in the building will receive new appliances, including a full-sized refrigerator, new floors, ceilings, paint jobs and air conditioning.
Kissito Village and Kissito now own 144 apartment units. It’s not just Kissito Village Clarke is excited about. Kissito was officially approved to enroll seniors over the age of 55 into their PACE organization, allowing them to help seniors age in place, live independently, and transition out of the nursing home and back to the community.
As beautiful and comfortable as so many in the Roanoke Valley are, there are still hundreds of seniors living in nursing homes that have been abandoned, have no one to care for them, or who can’t maintain their homes due to age, infirmity or poverty.
The numbers just don’t add up, Josh McGilliard, Vice President of Business Development said.
“In Oregon and AZ about 1.7% of all people over the age of 65 are institutionalized in a nursing home. In Virginia that number is 3.4%. That means it is entirely possible that over half of the long term care nursing home residents could transition back into their community if not for the lack of affordable housing and coordinated services to keep them safe…until now. Kissito has a solution. By using their Money Follows the Person (MFP) transition coordinator status, PACE, and the newly acquired 144 apartments in Kissito Village, formerly Hawthorne Towers; a person could transition out of a nursing home, return to their community safely, live in their own affordable apartment, and have all the healthcare needs coordinated and delivered by PACE.”
New name. New PACE Center. New days dawning. Change takes a village and now Kissito has one.