As a not-for-profit organization, social accountability is a core value of Lifespace Communities and part of who we are as a senior living provider. At a recent organizational leadership conference, we highlighted the importance of giving back, and encouraged executive directors at each of our communities to look for unique and additional ways to contribute to their surrounding neighborhoods.

Claridge Court, located in Prairie Village, KS, found a worthy partner in the Shawnee Mission School District. The community recently donated $42,500 to help bring Project Lead the Way – the nation’s leading provider of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs – to five elementary schools in Prairie Village. 

Under the terms of the partnership, after the initial donation, Claridge Court will continue to offer at least $5,000 to $8,000 a year to assist with the program. These funds are derived from the community’s operations budget, which includes money earmarked for social accountability. (All 12 Lifespace communities adhere to this financial commitment.)

The district, home to 33 elementary schools in all, has already implemented Project Lead the Way with older students, but hasn’t yet introduced it district-wide at an elementary level. School leadership has found that the program has special resonance with and impact on younger students, and implementing the curriculum across the district is one of its major goals. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, only 44% of high school graduates are ready for college-level math, and only 36% of high school graduates are ready for college-level science. There is a very clear need for this kind of initiative in the American education system.

One of the major proponents of the partnership was Claridge Court resident Monroe Taliaferro, a former mayor of Prairie Village. He had long suggested that the retirement community reach out to the surrounding school district to provide help with unmet needs. What better way to demonstrate their commitment to the community and all its citizens – specifically its youngest? After correspondence with the school district’s foundation, Claridge Court narrowed it down to the STEM program. Rather than offer money to support a one-time need or project, this gave the community the opportunity to add value on a consistent basis.

Beyond the dollars and sense, the partnership provides excellent opportunities for intergenerational bonding. As the STEM program launches in the elementary schools this spring, the district will help coordinate opportunities where students come to Claridge Court (and/or residents visit a school) for an interactive, first-hand experience with the program. Students will show the seniors key components, new technology equipment, and what they’re studying and learning. Social experiences like these for seniors are invaluable.

Partnerships and investments such as these can indirectly benefit retirement communities in years to come by sparking student interest in health sciences. The Pew Research Center estimates that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 14 or so years, and our industry has to ensure it’s prepared for that. There are 65 million Gen Xers that will follow suit and 81 million millennials down the road. 

There will be a growing need for a workforce with a medical or health-based background, and programs such as Project Lead the Way introduce concepts and give students the foundation to explore these fields more thoroughly. Both the school district and we like to think future doctors, nurses and certified nursing assistants will feel their first spark of interest and passion because of programs like this.

Lisa Ryan is the director of communications for Lifespace Communities.