Today we’d like to introduce you to Joe Carella.
Joe, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My passion is finding a better way for all of us on our journeys through life, and that’s a passion that was set out from childhood, where I lived in a very close-knit neighborhood that set the tone for the value of human connections across generations.
As a teenager, I was mistakenly placed in a geriatric hospital ward for four days and four nights, and the emotional and physical impact it had on me was long-lasting. As I grew into an adult, I chose a career path that searched for a better way to care for our elders. I found my way to Scandinavia, where I discovered commonsense principles surrounding the idea of community-centered living.
This is an idea that’s common abroad but unusual here in the US, where we tend to isolate our elders. So, when I returned I began working to bring the philosophy here, knowing that it could create better outcomes across generations. In 2001, I became the director of the Scandinavian Living Center, an assisted living community in Newton, and implemented the community-centered living philosophy there. Over the past 15+ years, we’ve been able to prove it as a great success.
Today, my mission is to bring the community-centered living philosophy to people across the country; the SLC remains one-of-a-kind in the US, and I think that’s a huge missed opportunity.
As such, I’m bringing the lessons of the SLC to life in my book, Creating Unlimited Options for Aging: The Path Forward. Here, I detail the personal experiences that led me to community-centered living, the lessons learned in 15+ years of putting it into practice at the SLC, and how we as a country can move forward in this vein to create more connected communities and better options for our aging population.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When I took the helm at the SLC, I was very fortunate to be surrounded by Scandinavian Board members who understood the community centered living philosophy along with the other principles that made up the development of the Scandinavian Living Center. Implementing the philosophy meant building out an entirely new Scandinavian Living Center.
Initially, the primary obstacles I faced were from American colleagues who felt that we could not reproduce what the Scandinavian countries were doing. It was the architects with American designs for senior care who questioned the idea of a 50% common space ratio to living space. Once the Center was built, it was difficult for staff to understand the idea that the Center was more than a place to house people, but a place to gather the entire community.
Having community programs had more to do with gathering community members than to market the facility. After all these years, it is still better for the community to discover the assisted living place when they are here for something else such as an event at the Cultural Center, physical therapy at a local practitioner, or the other 25-30 organizations that utilize the place as a place to gather. In short, the only obstacle is a lack of education toward the common-sense philosophy of community centered living. It is a game changer once it is embraced.
Scandinavian Living Center & author of Creating Unlimited Options for Aging: The Path Forward – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Scandinavian Charitable Society of Greater Boston is the parent company for both the Scandinavian Living Center, a 40-apartment traditional assisted living facility, and the Scandinavian Cultural Center.
In addition, we are the headquarters to over twenty-five nonprofit organizations and clubs, along with businesses such as Newton at Home, Minding Your Mind, and Tim Dreher Associates, an outpatient physical therapy company, the Scandinavian Library and a pop-up Saturday café. Together, not counting family and friends of the residents, we get over 2,000 visitors a month that come through the doors of the Center.
I believe we are known for our commitment to community-centered living and the impact it has on both the residents and the community of Newton and the Greater Boston area. What sets us about is that we believe that all housing facilities should be a place for gathering as opposed to a place to house people. We believe that the human connections that we experience in our own personal journeys in life should never stop when you move into a new housing arrangement.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I do not think I have achieved a “proudest moment in my career” moment. However, I will be proud when everyone embraces the simple concepts I share in Creating Unlimited Options for Aging, the Path Forward. If we can remove the institutional thinking and the institutional designs, I hope that the next generation will be able to benefit from better communities for aging.