Life Enrichment at The Clare: Keeping Residents Involved and Active

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As Life Enrichment Director at The Clare, Lori Griffin organizes all entertainment, outings, educational programming and special events for the residents at the high-rise retirement community in Chicago’s Gold Coast.

Life enrichment at The Clare involves a full range of programs designed to enhance residents’ lives as well as contribute to the strong sense of community that exists here.

Lori feels like she found her dream job at The Clare. With a degree in exercise science and a background as a personal trainer, Lori worked in the retirement living industry as a wellness director in Iowa before moving to Chicago in 2015. She began working in life enrichment at The Clare soon after.

“I schedule, coordinate and promote all of our monthly programming, which includes a broad scope of activities, from recurring gatherings like our popular opera lecture series and social games to movies, special-interest lectures, parties and themed dinners—plus booking headliners like Robert Chen, who is the concertmaster at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and his family to perform for the residents,” she says.

Lori has been able to book Chen and other Chicago celebrities for life enrichment at The Clare thanks to the many well-connected residents.

“They either know the people personally, or have worked with them, or have seen someone speak or perform in the past and want the rest of The Clare residents to share the same experience,” she says. “The residents are so proactive in their cultural lives that they will go up to the performers and speakers and ask them to come speak at The Clare.”

The Chen Quartet (Robert, his wife and two children), for example, has performed at The Clare numerous times, and they love it, Lori says.

“His kids are getting exposure and experience performing in front of an audience, and we get to experience their incredible talent,” she says.

Every day, Lori goes to work excited for what comes next.

“We have speakers, lecturers, work-shops, group outings – you name it, we have something literally every day of the week,” she says.

Clare residents have enjoyed recitals by performers from the Lyric Opera and Rush Hour Concert ensembles. They’ve received lectures from renowned speakers such as polar explorer and author John Huston and WFMT radio personalities. The array of life enrichment opportunities offered inside The Clare is always varied and top notch.

“Sometimes we do something new, and I’m not sure how it will go over,” Lori says. “But residents always show up – I love their willingness to try new things.”

Outings are very popular, especially tours of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

“Carlotta Maher, a Clare resident, has always been very involved with the museum,” Lori said. “She leads the trips and gives the tours, and every time she plans an outing, it fills up fast. Residents love supporting the passions and talents of their fellow residents.”

The residents also have a sense of adventure.

“Something we started last year is the ‘Mystery Trip,’” Lori says. “Residents will get on our bus with no idea where they are going. They’ll only find out once we’re on the road.”

They eagerly embrace technology, too.

“We had an Instagram class!” Lori says. “We worked with a photographer to develop the class and set up Instagram accounts. Many residents still post and enjoy sharing photos.”

One activity that most surprised Lori was the annual Chinatown Dragon Boat Races. In 2016, residents insisted on forming a team. The determined group practiced weekly to participate in the race, and they did so again this past summer.

Another reason Lori loves her job so much is that she can utilize her background as fitness instructor. She teaches a group fitness cardio-strength fusion class and a balance class once a week. The Clare’s Fitness Manager leads classes other days of the week, including Yoga.

“They’re some of the most popular activities at The Clare,” Lori says.

But what Lori enjoys most with life enrichment at The Clare is that she learns something new every day.

“I thought I would be the one educating the residents with the programs I book,” she says. “It turns out I’m the one getting the education from our wonderful, cultured residents.”