Village Hearth – an innovation in LGBTA senior living!

The Village Hearth is situated on 15 beautiful acres of land just 7.5 miles north of downtown Durham, North Carolina

A few years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about issues around diversity and housing, and included a discussion around the intersection of housing issues and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) aging adults. Link to blog. Since that time, there has been a significant increase in senior housing options that are more affirming of LGBT people as we age.

But now I want to write about a real innovation and a “first of its kind” community for LGBT and allied people. Village Hearth in Durham, NC is the first “cohousing” community for LGBT people and their allies.

What is “cohousing?” It is a concept that started in Denmark a few decades ago, and now there are about 130 – 150 cohousing communities in the United States. Cohousing is an intentional neighborhood of private homes clustered around shared space. Households have independent incomes and private lives, but neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces. Village Hearth in Durham NC, which is about to start the construction stage, is the first cohousing development in the US specifically geared toward LGBT people and their allies.

Village Hearth future residents Gary Ross-Reynolds and Tami Ike

Recently I met with two future Village Hearth residents, Tami Ike and Gary Ross-Reynolds, out at their 15-acre location.
STAN: Do tell me more about Village Hearth. When will building start?
TAMI: We will be a community of 28 homes on this 15 acre piece of property, and we still have 2 units remaining for sale! Construction will start in the Fall of this year, and we hope to start moving in by the end of 2019.


STAN: What is the mix of future residents? Are they all gay and lesbian?
TAMI: Actually it is quite a diverse mixed community of men and women, half are LGBT, and half are straight folks who enjoy living in diverse communities. We also have a good mixture of couples and single people, and several of our members are still working, and some are retired.


STAN: So Gary, I understand you’re from Asheville. Could you tell me a little more about yourself?
GARY: Yes, I had an interesting career, starting as a psychologist and later moving into ICU nursing. My partner Steve, who is 9 years older than I, is a retired Episcopal priest.


STAN: What led you to wanting to move into the Village Hearth?
GARY: My partner Steve and I have been wanting to move to Durham for various community groups here we want to get involved in. But I didn’t simply want to move from one house to another house in a typical neighborhood – I wanted to move into a place that was both LGBT affirming and would offer a built-in set of friends and community activities.


This sign reflects the sentiment of the Village Hearth community.

STAN: How important was the LGBT aspect of the Village Hearth to you?
GARY: That was an extremely important part of our decision. In doing research, I found that many of the traditional senior living communities either are not welcoming to LGBT people, or don’t know what to do with us. I have heard of situations where same-gender older couples are even separated and not allowed to live together. They virtually have to go back in the closet again. And even if the community was open and welcoming, I really do not want to be their “token gay.”


STAN: Finally, what are you looking forward to most in moving into the Village Hearth?
GARY: I am looking forward to getting involved in all that Durham has to offer, and I look forward to having a wonderful group of friends and activities here in the Village Hearth to enjoy.


STAN: And where can people find more information, especially if they may be interested in the two remaining homes for sale?
TAMI and GARY: Certainly explore our website, http://www.villagehearthcohousing.com/. And feel free to call Gary at (828)-545-9900 or via [email protected]
STAN: Thank you for taking this time with me, and I wish you both and all your other future Village Hearth residents a wonderful joy-filled future.

Diversity Councils and Employee Resource Groups – Not “either / or,” but “both / and”

Blog author Stan Kimer enjoys facilitating the Employee Resource Groups and Diversity Councils best practices sessions at the National Diversity Council’s DiversityFIRST certification classes.

This past July, the large global public accounting firm Deloitte caused quite a stir in diversity circles when its chairman shared that it was going to disband its employee affinity groups (often call employee resource groups – ERGs or business resource groups) and replace them with inclusions councils. The logic is that the inclusion councils can still focus on underrepresented groups but also involve many more white men in the diversity and inclusion discussion. (Link to an article about this announcement from Diversity Inc.)

A few weeks after Deloitte’s announcement, Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg LP wrote a rebuttal titled “Why employee resource groups still matter” (LINK). Ms. Brown shared that their ERGs add significant value to their business and focus on Bloomberg’s five key pillars of commercial impact, recruiting, leadership development, marketing and communications, and community engagement.

I myself now serve on the faculty of the National Diversity Council’s DiversityFIRST Certification Class and two of the modules I facilitate are Best Practices in Employee Resource Groups and Best Practices in Diversity Councils. I have now added a discussion about Deloitte’s recent actions to the class.

I strongly believe that diversity councils and ERGs are complementary, and both structures can co-exist and work together. It does not have to be one or the other. Here are 5 reasons why both structures are needed and should co-exist.

1) Diversity Councils are management sponsored and led with supporting the corporate business goals through diversity and inclusion as it main objective. ERGs are employee led, and though ERGs very often support the business, the primary impetus is addressing the workplace needs of the various diverse constituencies.

2) There are still many issues around underrepresented groups within American business, and so a focus and “safe space” for diverse communities to discuss their issues and collaborate to grow professionally are really needed.

ERGs can very effectively represent companies at constituency events like “OutRaleigh!” where I celebrated my 60th birthday.

3) You do not need to dissolve ERGs and form new inclusion councils if the goal is to increase involvement of white men. One best practice is to have a Men’s ERG so everyone is included in the ERGs structure. And white male leaders can be advocates, advisors, mentors and executive sponsors of the ERGs. (See my past blog from 2016 “Diversity and Straight White Men – 4 Key Thoughts.”)

4) ERGs are still a very effective way to connect a business with diverse community outreach and philanthropic activities and constituency markets.

5) Structured properly, ERGs and Diversity Councils can cross-pollinate and work closely to assure their goals and activities are aligned.

Often leaders make errors in trying to replace one structure or solution with another when actually the two co-exist and support each other. And so it is with Diversity Councils and Employee Resource Groups.