Robineau Residence: A Unique and Thriving Community

by Nicole Bruce

Nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood in Skokie, CJE’s Robineau Residence is designed to foster social interaction among 24 older adults living independently. Since 1982, the intimate ranch-style group home has provided a unique community for residents ranging in age from 58 to 104, revealing a special portrayal of senior living today.

“The architecture supports social interaction. Robineau was designed at a time before there were many senior homes. People have many choices now, but this is still an incredible model. It’s communal living with great programming,” says Dorothy Levant, Manager of Robineau Residence. “I’ve seen residents do really well here because they’re in a healthy
atmosphere. There’s loads of social interaction, which is critical to an older person."

Social by Design

The thriving, single floor community has an arrangement of six suites with four private bedrooms and baths around living rooms with kitchens—a perfect arrangement to encourage
socializing among its residents, who enjoy group activities, meals, transportation, excursions and 24-hour staff. In fact, a resident once likened his apartment to a cabin on a cruise ship.

“There are a lot of opportunities to interact with other residents or to simply close your door and have your privacy, so it’s the best of both worlds living here. People don’t have to
worry about elevators or stairs, and they are always being cared for as part of the Robineau community in a very wonderful way,” says Levant. “ People are constantly checking in on each other to see how they’re doing, if they want to come to a meal or program, or simply just to chat."

“On our first date, I took her for a hair cut. We both needed a hair cut! So I took her over to the barber shop on the corner. We do that every two months now. It’s still a date.”
~ Robert

One resident, Emma R., talks about the recent passing of a dining room companion: “We became very good friends. Sometimes I think about her sitting on the other side of me like she always did. She would make us all just laugh. We all felt so terrible when she died because we lost a friend. Everybody liked her at the table. Of course, I don’t know anybody here that I dislike.”

While physically very similar to a college dorm living set-up, the atmosphere is also collegial in that residents are provided with many life enriching opportunities. “We have a lot of people who come here to teach and inspire the residents on how to tap into their hidden talents. That’s one of the ingredients that makes Robineau unique,” says Levant. “We do our best to help them reach their potential at thi stage in their lives. I’ve seen residents who are depressed and withdrawn transform into people who are open to falling in love again.”

Robineau is a family for me and I enjoy it. My mom would say, “Stay with your friends.”
~ Scott

People quickly become part of the community because of the activities, such as musical presentations, book reviews, games, discussion groups of all kinds, and exercise classes. There’s even  an in-house newspaper, which is edited by the residents. Since the manager’s office is right in the middle of the building and the door is always open, “People’s needs are addressed right away. It’s really more like a family than just an apartment building,” says Levant.

Activities occur in rooms all around the building. Residents are particularly fond of the community’s thriving greenhouse, where they are able to nurture their own plants, even tending
to some that were left behind many years ago. “When new residents move in they bring their plants, and that’s how our garden grows. Some residents are very skilled at gardening, so we have beautiful plants in our greenhouse,” says Levant. “One of our 20-year-old plants was left by a former resident so in a way, her spirit lives on at Robineau.”

A Youthful Spirit

CJE’s other independent, subsidized housing buildings require that at least one occupant be a minimum of 62 years old. However, Robineau Residence has welcomed younger applicants (ages 55 or older) to apply since a waiver was granted by the U.S. Department  of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2011. They must still qualify for subsidized housing under the provisions of HUD’s Section 8 program, but it has positively affected the community’s energy.

Not long ago, Robineau was home to seniors primarily in their 80s and 90s. Now the social atmosphere is livelier. “As a result of having younger residents, we became a baby boomer senior home. The kinds of programs that we are offering are different than the programs that we offered years ago. Dances and social activities are designed to get residents moving,” says Levant.

Diverse in gender, race and ethnicity, the demographic composition of Robineau is unusual for a senior living facility of only  24 residents. “We have so many different tastes that we keep everyone happy by having a little of everything,” Levant says. “The younger residents learn so much from the older ones. They, in turn, really embrace the younger ones.”

Intergenerational programs also help infuse a youthful spirit into the mix as well. Kids from neighboring schools and daycare programs, such as Bayit Afterschool, a Jewish educational program in Evanston, visit the residents for a variety of activities. On a recent snowy day, the students and residents planted seeds in pots for the greenhouse and residents’ rooms to bring in the spirit of spring for Tu B’Shevat. Children from Tiny Tot Preschool, conveniently located across the street, draw, play games and sing songs with the residents. “Everyone feels young again being with the children,” says Levant.

Caring Staff and Volunteers

Part of what makes Robineau a successful living environment is not only the residence’s inhabitants, but also its dedicated staff and volunteers. “The entire staff enjoys working here, and that gets passed on to the residents,” says Levant. “I look forward to coming to work every day because the residents are like an extended family.”

Additionally, there is a regular group of 24 volunteers at Robineau. With 24 residents, that’s an outstanding 1:1 ratio, a testament to CJE’s commitment to person-centered care. Rita Pomerance, a long-time Robineau volunteer, and her husband Allen sponsor Robineau’s themed Super Supper events, in which residents are treated to a specially-prepared cuisine by Morrison Senior Dining’s chefs once a month. “Our dining room is transformed into the Ritz Carlton,” says Levant. “Our last dinner was a little taste of everything from around the world. We called it ‘Diversity Dinner’ on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and everyone loved it.”

It’s not unusual for family members of residents to remain connected to Robineau, even after their mother or father has passed. The daughters of  a resident continue to donate on behalf of their mother to support life enrichment programs for other residents. The son of another resident has been volunteering monthly, along with other members of his synagogue, for more than 13 years because his mother loved every day that she lived at Robineau.

Celebrating Life

Robineau brings out the best in people because the community is particularly conscious of supporting life’s events. They’ll welcome every new resident, celebrate all birthdays, and honor residents through memorial services, giving other residents a chance to remember their friends in a special way.

I’ve had my share of life. I’ve raised 11 children. I am the oldest living relative in the family on both sides...I made it to 100. When I had my 100th birthday last year, Robineau had a big party for me. I do have a lot of friends and relatives...the place was overrunning with people!”
~ Emma

Their bond is strengthened because they celebrate the ups and downs of life together. “When I came here, I was 100 years old. When you’re older, you’re alone. I have people to talk to and to be with and do things with. This is my home. It’s a wonderful place to be,” says resident Ethel W.

As we age, finding a place we can call home and people we consider family is ever-evolving and can be challenging. But if home is where the heart is and family is what you make it, then Robineau is brimming with both.

* Levy House, an affordable apartment building, also requires the head of the household to be at least 55 years of age.