March 23, 2018

In the light and spacious lobby at Primrose Place Apartments in Baltimore, Maryland, there’s a wall that supports a “Love Tree” made of pink-colored paper hearts. The residents had filled each heart’s center with things that made them feel love. The words, “A Warm Hug” stood out.

This is where Barbara Peterson, or as her friends call her, “Brandi,” a 62-year-old born and raised in Baltimore, calls home. She has lived at Primrose Place for the past five years. She’s also a breast cancer survivor.

Valentine at Primrose PlaceWhen asked about health, Peterson recalls an early memory with her grandmother. “From a very early age, I can remember her telling me that it doesn’t cost you anything to smile at someone,” she said. “You never know what they’re going through. A smile can lift one’s spirits and has the power to heal.”

And if anyone knows about healing, it’s Peterson. She has a complicated medical history of congestive heart failure and breast cancer, accompanied by 35 radiation treatments and months of chemotherapy.

Peterson has now been cancer free for seven years. She said that what got her through wasn’t the surgeries and medicines, but the perceived insignificant gestures like someone holding her hand, knocking on her door to check on her, and bringing her a warm meal. She even had the opportunity to speak at a workshop on cancer for nursing students at Coppin State University, where she shared her healing journey.

“My community is what got me through,” said Peterson, who emphasized the support of her loving neighbors and caring church.

Community Housing Partners (CHP) completed renovations on Peterson’s apartment community in 2017. A 125-unit midrise building in southwest Baltimore, Primrose Place serves seniors and non-elderly disabled individuals. According to Peterson, resident programs offered at the newly renovated building have played a significant and positive role on her health.

“Living in a beautiful, healthy space and being encouraged to participate in activities that help empower me and strengthen my sense of community gives me motivation to take my health seriously.”

Danielle Clemons with residentsDanielle Clemons, Resident Services Coordinator at Primrose Place, puts a great deal of time and energy into creating opportunities for residents to learn, foster relationships, and have fun. Community activities range from Tai Chi, aerobics, and yoga, to emotional support groups and art classes. Clemons has also created various health campaigns like a 90-day health challenge, where residents complete various health-related activities each week.

The community’s programs focus on a different health theme each month, so that residents finish the year with well-rounded knowledge around how to care for all aspects of their health. The theme for March, for example, is self-care, which involves making day-to-day decisions to enhance one’s health and wellness.

When asked about a favorite memory from an organized event at Primrose, Peterson remembered the day that Clemons took them to the beach. “At first, I thought she was crazy,” said Peterson, laughing. “I soon realized that she had created a beach scene for all of us in the community room, filled with tropical music and even homemade sand! She told us to stick our feet in the sand and relax. It was a very special day!”

Clemons explained that although many people focus on the physical ailments of elderly Americans, mental ailments are overlooked, like anxiety and depression. “Depression is extremely common among the elderly,” said Clemons. “They can have a feeling of loss as they often live alone and the amount of family members and friends who visit dwindle. Though our programs help to improve the quality of life for our residents, there is still a lot of work to do.”

Primrose Place residents with exercise bandsTo help identify the health needs of the community, Clemons is encouraging the residents at Primrose to participate in a Health Outcomes Demonstration Project, a joint effort by NeighborWorks America and Enterprise Community Partners. Through the project, CHP is surveying residents at Primrose Place and five other senior properties in Virginia and Maryland. The surveys focus on health and wellness attitudes and behavior, including how residents are impacted by and manage chronic diseases.

“We know that chronic disease has a significant impact on the senior population in general, but we don’t know exactly how it is impacting low-income residents at our senior communities,” said Angie Roberts-Dobbins, Vice President of CHP Resident Services.

“Through this initiative, we will identify best practices, determine which senior programs are most impactful, fill in the gaps through our own programs or partner-delivered programs, and develop new partnerships to better serve our senior population,” said Roberts-Dobbins.

Thanks to the work of committed individuals like Clemons and Peterson, health partnerships are already taking shape at Primrose Place. Nursing students at Coppin State University regularly visit the property to administer blood pressure screenings, educate residents on fall prevention, smoking cessation, and give workshops on nutrition.

Not only are the staff and residents creating positive health outcomes at Primrose Place, but they are also demonstrating how simply coming together in community and kindness can have huge impacts on quality of life and inspire others to pass it on.