Agency for Change – Jennifer Knecht, Vice President of Marketing and Communications of Immanuel » KidGlov

Announcer
Welcome to Agency For Change, the podcast that brings you the stories of people creating positive change in the world. We explore what inspires these changemakers, the work they’re doing, and how they share their message. Each of us can play a part in change, and these are the people who show us how.

Lyn Wineman
Hello, fellow changemakers, this is Lyn Wineman, founder and chief strategist of KidGlov. Welcome to another episode of the Agency For Change podcast. The phrase I would use to describe today’s guest is go-getter. Jennifer Knecht is the vice president of marketing and communications for Immanuel, the premier option and longtime leader for retirement living in Nebraska and Iowa. I can’t wait to get her take on how they are serving seniors in positive ways, and how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting her work. Jennifer, how are you today?

Jennifer Knecht
I’m fantastic, I’m really thrilled to be on the changemaker podcast.  I think today’s subject, and what we’re going to talk about with senior living and retirement living and that entire space is going to be really relevant when we talk about change.

Lyn Wineman
I think that’s fantastic, because sometimes, I’m sure you deal with this, sometimes our society takes seniors, and we want them to be comfortable and live out their lives, but you don’t think about living your dreams or making change as a senior and I know at Immanuel you really focus on helping people have a vibrant life, regardless of what age they’re at.

Jennifer Knecht
Most definitely. It’s funny, in America especially, we have the whole word ageism, but it’s a very real word. I mean, I look in the mirror every day at my own face, and I can certainly see laugh lines around my eyes and things that I’d like to go away or erase, and that’s just part of getting older and the beauty of getting older, but it’s funny that we try to run from it. And that’s certainly one of the things I’m sure we’ll dig into a little bit with this particular episode.

Jennifer Knecht
But it’s a funny thing, we have this weird thought in our mind about aging, or seniors, or what it’s like as you continue on your journey. And I think really what the biggest lesson that we can learn from our residents at Immanuel, and just in general about the aging process, is it just gives you better wisdom, maybe makes you more grounded as an individual in who you are. So you have more to give to the world. And that’s a whole new way to look at aging. I have more to give to the world this year than I did last year because I have a whole bunch more wisdom, I’ve been through many more life experiences, and the things that are important to me now, are probably much more solid than they might have been 10 years ago.

Lyn Wineman
Jennifer, I love that. Because so many of us spend so much time on Zoom right now, every time I turn on Zoom, I notice those little, I’m going to call them wisdom lines from now on, those little wisdom lines around my eyes, and I’m going to say, “That’s my mark of accomplishment from here on out.”

Jennifer Knecht
Yes.

Lyn Wineman
I’d love for you to start by just telling us a little bit more about Immanuel and your role within the organization.

Jennifer Knecht
Oh, I’d love to. So Immanuel is very near and dear to my heart, but in a nutshell, we are all about people. We are a nonprofit, we’ve been around since 1887, and we started as the second hospital in the city of Omaha.  We serve between Lincoln and Des Moines down the I-80 corridor, essentially, and in multiple different locations, we provide senior services.

We have retirement living options, we have care communities, which are nursing home level of care. So, from retirement living, all the way through nursing home level of care with assisted living and memory support in between there. And then we also have a program called Pathways PACE, a program of all-inclusive care for the elderly. That’s serving the people at poverty level or below in Nebraska, and in Iowa, at a nursing home level of care and keeping them safely in their home. We surround them with every type of support service, both on the healthcare side and just on the support side, to help them stay and remain safely wherever they call home.

Jennifer Knecht
And so Immanuel to me is, when we talk about seniors, I mean, it really is about service to seniors, Christ centered service to seniors is our mission. But when we say that, we mean that we serve from poverty level and below all the way through very affluent individuals. So we have a whole host of different options and what we really pride ourselves on in every single one of the ways in which we serve are extraordinary experiences.

Jennifer Knecht
So just because you get older does not mean that you don’t want to have extraordinary experiences. And in the Midwest, it’s a little bit different. Not as many people perhaps aspire to retire to the Midwest. Maybe the weather is better in Florida and places that are warmer, but we find a lot of folks are moving back to the Midwest to be around their families, their grandkids, yet they want the ease of retirement life.

So it’s really about the turnkey kind of concept where you can just lock the door and travel down to your house in Florida when it gets cold in Nebraska, and in Iowa, and then return back and spend the majority of your year here enjoying your grandchildren, and exploring whatever life has to offer you in your retirement years.

 Lyn Wineman
Jennifer, when you say extraordinary experiences, that makes me think more of a resort hotel or a hospitality venue than what people might picture as senior living. Can you talk about that a little bit more?

Jennifer Knecht
I would love to and that’s exactly what it is. So certainly nursing home level of care is 24/7 nursing support. And I think that’s where most people start when they think about senior living or retirement living, it starts at nursing home level of care. A lot of our residents, in fact, I was just talking to one of our residents last week, and they were mentioning their impression of going to visit their grandmother 40, 50 years ago, what that was like.  It was the old nursing home on the hill with the green walls that smelled funny when you walked in, and people in wheelchairs and that’s all you saw.

Jennifer Knecht
Today, when you walk into one of our communities it’s really like walking into a Ritz-Carlton. And I can say that very fondly and very seriously, because of the experience that you have when you walk in.  We have beautiful welcoming entrances, grand foyers, we have amazing restaurants and all sorts of different types of things like that. We have yoga studios, we have fitness studios, we have Thrive Wellness Studios, and day spas. So we have all of those amenities and services inside of our communities.

Jennifer Knecht
And at the same time, we offer you peace of mind. So as you might continue to age, you start much more at a lower level where you… it’s literally just turnkey service. So you decided that you don’t want to deal with the snow and having to scoop your driveway, you don’t want to even deal with the HOA and having to comply with making sure your lawn is manicured or watering your lawn or any of those things that might get in the way of you just enjoying experiences and life.

So, when you decide you want to turn the key and go travel to visit your granddaughter in Texas, you can do that and have no worries. When you decide you want to turn the key and go visit your son in New York, you can do that, and it’s absolutely easy, carefree living. You can either cook in your apartment home, or you can enjoy whatever amazing meals and our restaurants.

Jennifer Knecht
So that’s really what retirement living is about today. It’s just about the experiences at Immanuel at least, and enjoying anything that you might have aspired to in this chapter of your life, making that possible for you without the headache of everything else in everyday life. You don’t have to remember to pay your electricity bill, that easy thing.

Lyn Wineman
I love it. As I hear you explain it, my thought is, “Where can I go to sign up?”

Jennifer Knecht
Absolutely. And it’s funny because we know…right now we’re serving primarily the silent generation, and we’re getting ready and preparing, we’re just starting to dip our toe into serving the baby boomers. And there’s a big difference in the wants, needs and desires of a baby boomer. We all know that baby boomers are not really into the idea of retiring, it’s just reinventing yourself in a new way, that there’s a lot of relevancy, a lot of ways in which you can be engaged. We have a whole host of resident driven volunteer activities.  We have a lot of residents that are very passionate about recycling, and so they’ve started a recycling program maybe in their community for all their neighbors.

Jennifer Knecht
We have residents that are really passionate about the zoo, and so they volunteer regularly and schedule sessions when they can get together with their neighbors inside of that community and take them all to the zoo to volunteer to feed the baby animals. We have residents that are lifelong learners, and we’re giving them lots of different ways in which they can engage on a lifelong learning side of things.

And folks that even want to travel, they’ve made new friends, maybe they’ve met new neighbors down the hallway that they weren’t anticipating, they found a new unlikely friendship, and that new best friend who they want to go traveling with. So, we even have the Immanuel Explorers Club, which is essentially where they travel all over the country.  They’ve been to Alaska on a cruise, they’ve been to Branson, Missouri, they’ve been to Nashville last year. In fact, they just went to Nashville and got some really fun behind-the-scenes activities, getting to touch the keys of Elvis’ piano, and by the way, they’re not supposed to, you’re not supposed to be able to touch the keys of Elvis’ piano.

Lyn Wineman
All right, well, we just told just a few people today but I’m sure nobody else will tell. Keep it a secret everyone, keep it a secret.

Jennifer Knecht
Well, they sweet talked their way there, so I think that’s part of wisdom, right? You get very good at being very convincing.

Lyn Wineman
I love that. It all sounds amazing and very resort-like and maybe not what people would expect, yet, I think it’s fascinating that Immanuel is a nonprofit organization, and your tagline is “Here for You. Not for Profit.”  And so I’m curious, why is the not-for-profit status important? And how does that play into the way you serve seniors?

Jennifer Knecht
That’s a really great question. For multiple different reasons, I would say the primary reason is that we are in service to a mission, which means that we only exist for the betterment of people, and our mission is here for you, not here for profit, that’s our tagline. But our mission is Christ-centered service to seniors, each other and the community. So that means that every single day, every single one of our team members wakes up and comes to work just to fulfill the mission.  It means that our board of directors, which governs our organization…we have two major committees that every decision has to be weighed against, every major decision inside of our organization. So, we would be looking at – are we going to acquire a new community, are we going to grow into this region? Those types of major organizational decisions are decided at the board level.

Jennifer Knecht
We have two committees, we have a mission committee and we have a finance committee. And every decision that comes forward has to be weighed, and has to be presented unanimously by both committees to the greater board before anything will move forward. So it means that we have the right checks and balances so that we’re balancing mission, but we’re also being very prudent in how we operate as a business. We’re obviously a business and we have to continue to be successful, so we can be around for more than 133 years into the future.

Jennifer Knecht
But for every single one of the employees then, what that means is that we’re all dedicated to the betterment of another individual. So I serve at Immanuel because it’s about impacting other human lives, and my teammates serve for the very same reason. Maybe they came and they have a different function than me, but at the end of the day, it’s about impacting a life. And we all have the confidence knowing that the organization and every one of our leaders and every one of our board of directors will all make decisions based on – how is that going to better the individual versus how is that going to better our profit margin?

Jennifer Knecht
That’s a big difference. And what that translates down to for our residents and our families, is it really means that you have good confidence knowing that we’re not going to increase rates five times a year for a resident or for the family, because that’s not the right decision for the individuals. It means that every time that we have new construction, or that we’re exploring new projects, or new amenities and services, we’re really weighing – is that going to better the experience of those individuals, not only on the residents’ side, but also on the employee side? It’s funny, you know the old adage – you take care of your team, they’re going to take care of business? And especially when you’re in the business of serving other people, well, we believe very much so that at Immanuel, if we’re doing the right things for the people that work for us, then the people that work for us, the teams that are caring for our seniors, and caring for our families, those are the team members that are going to do the right things because of those people.

Jennifer Knecht
So it kind of sets you free, if you will, because I believe as human beings, we really are here to positively impact another life. And I’m surrounded by an entire team of people who also believe that we are here to positively impact another life, and I’m backed up by a group of leaders who also believe that we are here to positively impact another life.

Jennifer Knecht
Now, you might find in another retirement community, people who are there for the right reasons, serving for the right reason, because they’re there to help the residents and the families, but at the higher levels, the executive leadership levels, at the vice president’s levels, at the board levels, the decisions are being made for the profit margin that can be had. It also means that Immanuel, we’re prudent in every decision that we make, and we make decisions on the business side of things so that we can be around for a long time. But when we say we’re in service for a mission, we don’t exist without that mission. There’s no reason for us to be in business, except to serve other human beings. And that’s just a really beautiful thing when you think about it. 

Jennifer Knecht
I mean, you can market, you can sell many things, when you and your team do a lot of work with nonprofits. There are so many amazing things that you can market and sell in the world, you can sell a candy bar, I’ve done that, it’s amazing, you smell like chocolate every day, it’s really great. But at the end of the day that doesn’t necessarily fill your heart up with, “I’ve just deeply, positively impacted another human being’s life.” And that’s what we do at Immanuel every day.

Lyn Wineman
I love that Jennifer. I mean, so it’s not just the core of what Immanuel does, but it impacts the people you attract, the leadership decisions. I imagine the residents that come there too are attracted to that mission as well, and I love that. I think too, kind of, the key to work happiness is being able to blend your talents with a mission that you love. And at the end of the day, when you work really hard, you know that you’re not just selling candy bars. I mean, yes, candy bars are delicious.

Jennifer Knecht
They’re great. It’s wonderful, yes. Not knocking candy at all.

Lyn Wineman
You’re doing something at a higher level. And I think that’s really cool. I also know that Immanuel is committed to the local communities that you are located in. And I’m curious, because it seems like a lot of, because I’m in some of the same communities, it seems like a lot of big players are coming in to the area. And I’m wondering if you could kind of compare and contrast or help people understand – does it make a difference whether you are a senior living provider that is locally based and locally focused versus being a large national conglomerate?

Jennifer Knecht
Well, let’s go back to our mission. I think we’ll start with our mission. We are born and bred in Nebraska, we were the second hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.  We were founded by a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America, so we are a serving arm of the ELCA. And the bishop does sit on our board of directors, which is a good thing, helping to guide us. So we’re very connected to the church on the spiritual side of things for sure.

Jennifer Knecht
But when we go back to our mission, we really start to unpack our mission. I want to start with the community part of it first. We are a unique nonprofit in that we have a foundation inside of our… we have two foundations inside of our nonprofit. We have a foundation that’s focused on communities, on our communities and our Pathway centers to help support those residents and participants with a whole host of different types of things and our employees as well. So, if somebody falls on hard times and needs a little financial assistance, we have our employee Helping Hands fund that can help fund that sort of thing. If we have residents who outlive their resources for some reason, we are happy to help keep them inside the Immanuel family with the foundation. So we have that foundation.

Jennifer Knecht
But then we also, a few years ago, really dug into, “What does Christ-centered service to each other and the community mean?” We had the Community Foundation, which I said or mentioned, serves our seniors, and serves our participants, our residents and our employees.  We decided that we wanted to reinvest in the communities in which we serve, because there are a lot of nonprofits out there doing really great work. And any entity who thinks, or that thinks that, they can do great work themselves is not necessarily committed to the community.

Jennifer Knecht
So we’re not just a standalone doing our own great works kind of an organization. We are an organization that is now reinvesting. The Vision Foundation was created just over six years ago, we’ve reinvested $11 million back into the Lincoln, Omaha, Council Bluffs, and Des Moines communities primarily, but also the entire state. In fact, a couple years ago, we gave a grant to every single senior center in the state of Nebraska, and to every single senior center in the state of Iowa, which was amazing.

Jennifer Knecht
We are committed to funding and partnering with, financially, to give back to nonprofits that are also doing great work to help support the community, that are primarily focused on supporting seniors and health, that type of thing, because that’s really where our roots are grounded. But we know that we can’t do it alone. So that’s one of the big things that we take a lot of sense…we’re very humbled, but we’re also very proud that we’re making decisions to reinvest in that way. That’s how we’re living out our mission, even though we are a nonprofit. We’re also reinvesting with our own foundation back into the community at large.

Jennifer Knecht
Then the second part I would say there, as you know, I’m born and raised in Nebraska. I’ve lived all over the country. I’ve moved around and then decided that I wanted to come back to my roots because I think Nebraska is a really fantastic place to live and be in, you can travel anywhere from Nebraska. There’s a lot of great things about Nebraska and the Midwest in general. And you can feel a difference in the people that have been born and raised here, there’s just an interesting sense of respect for the hard work, for some of the work ethics, for some of the values I think that Midwesterners have. And because we’re from the Midwest, that really shines through.

Jennifer Knecht
I mean, we make decisions, again, based on people, but through the lens of, “We’re here to stay, our roots run deep, we’re not planning on being here for a while and then all of a sudden just disappearing.” And whenever you have somebody from outside, I’m not saying we don’t welcome our new friends into our circle, for sure. But when you have outside entities coming to move in and saying, “Well, we know what works on the East Coast, we know what works on the West Coast, we especially know what works down in Florida, that has to absolutely apply to what works for seniors in the Midwest.” And we would 100% disagree. I have seen, and it’s very funny, somebody living on the East Coast, and the values and the culture on the East Coast is completely different from the values and the culture in the Midwest.

Jennifer Knecht
And when you walk into one of our communities, they’re beautiful, they’re opulent, they’re designed around experiences, but they also have a very different feeling. In fact, I was just talking to a residents’ family member a couple of weeks ago, and they were talking about the hard decision that they made and lots of discernment they put into, “Should I move mom during COVID?” It was a big decision because it’s a pretty scary thing. There’s a lot of things you’re hearing in the news, that you’re hearing about. “Well, is my mom going to be locked into her room? Am I never going to see my mom again if I move her into a senior living community? Is something terrible going to happen to her in the senior living community?”

Jennifer Knecht
Well, this family literally engaged with one of our senior living counselors who have helped thousands of other families through the discernment process of whether or not Immanuel is the right fit for them. And they ended up making the decision based on, “Well, mom is super lonely.” Because she was at home watching the news every day, and there’s a lot of fear floating around in her mind.  Mom had not been out to engage with other people, literally, since everybody started locking down in March of 2019. I mean, that’s almost 10 months ago, it’s going to be more months…

Lyn Wineman
That’s a long time.

Jennifer Knecht
… just on and on. And then on top of that, she was lonely, she wasn’t eating, so she kind of stopped eating, not preparing food, because she was not feeling really up to it, she lost a little bit of weight. And then the unfortunate thing was, she did a little bit of slipping and falling inside of her house, didn’t break anything, but it was a big enough scare that the family said, “Wow, we need to think about this.” So, they did some touring around, a lot of it’s virtual right now, of course, during COVID. There’s a great deal of virtual touring and talking on the phone and trying to discern what’s the right fit for mom, because the community has to fit the person and vice versa.  We would never want somebody to move into one of our communities that doesn’t feel the feeling of what it’s like.

Jennifer Knecht
They really connected with this particular sales counselor, and this senior living counselor helped them through the whole process, advised a few things, told them to ask these questions as they were going to other places. They did, and what the daughter said to me ultimately was, “We made the decision because we could literally feel a difference walking into the community.” So we did all of this virtually, we connect with everybody virtually, and then we did micro tours inside of the community so you could see a little bit of the internal parts of the community. But we did that because we wanted them to understand what the feeling was.

Jennifer Knecht
And at Immanuel, I can very sincerely say, because I’ve worked in multiple different locations and been into lots of different communities throughout our area, Immanuel and otherwise, it really is a sense of coming home, like a sense of feeling like the community is like the community that you’re used to, that you grew up in. And that’s a really difficult thing to duplicate if you’re from out of state or from out of the area. If you’re from Chicago, it’s not the same feeling. If you’re from the East Coast or the West Coast, I mean, even down to the apartment configurations and how they’re all configured, or they’re configured for living the way in which we like to live in the Midwest, which is we like a little bit larger, more spacious apartments. We like to have underground parking, because we know that snow is a big thing in the wintertime. All of those considerations we’re putting into our communities anytime that we reconfigure, reconstruct, and obviously, as we’re adding new communities into our family, we’re always looking at how we might need to make tweaks to make it more homey.

Jennifer Knecht
But when you’re from outside of the area, you don’t have some of that insight, some of that understanding of what the culture is, how people like to live, how we make friends, it’s a little bit different here than it is in a city. I mean, that’s what we tell our people when they ask a question like, “How do I figure out which community might be right for me?” Well, you have to find the one that fits the personality of you, as the resident, or you, as the family member, knowing your loved one. That’s a big thing.

Jennifer Knecht
When we talk about experience, it’s not like moving into a house and you have a neighbor next to you that you hate, it’s like moving into an entire new neighborhood, you have to feel comfortable in the neighborhood in which you’re living, you have to ensure that the apartment style is what you like, you have to ensure that the amenities are going to fit your lifestyle. If you’re a very social person and you enjoyed lots of connectivity, you need to find a place that has a lot of life and vibrancy. If you are a person that was more like, “I like to sit on the beach by myself and read my book,” you need to find a community that has that type of a feeling. So you just have to kind of know yourself because it’s much less about the actual apartment home itself and more about the entire experience that surrounds you inside of that community that you move into.

Lyn Wineman
I imagine that’s where the experience differs from the Ritz-Carlton, right? The Ritz, you know you’re going to go for a long weekend, a week maybe, but you’re going to go enjoy it and then go on to your next destination, which may be your home. But this would be like moving in, so you’re not only considering, “Hey, does it look fantastic? And are there things for me to do? But how is it going to feel to live here?” And you’re right, Nebraskans and Midwesterners and Iowans, there’s just something intangible, I think, about the people and the culture that is different, and that people really appreciate.

Jennifer Knecht
The other thing about Immanuel, because our roots are so deep, because we’ve been around since 1887, we have a wealth of knowledge in this space, because we’ve been serving seniors for more than 133 years. So it’s not just a new thing that we just woke up, and we’re like, “Oh, let’s go do this. Because this seems like this might be a good thing to get into.” We didn’t just decide that yesterday or last week or two years ago. I mean, we’ve been doing this for a long time. So that means that we’ve been… and we’re getting better every year…we’re very, very innovative. We’re constantly looking at other industries and looking at life in general just to understand what might be a great fit for our residents and for our family members. But it makes a big difference.

Jennifer Knecht
I kind of like to align it to buying a new car. So nobody really wants to buy a new car or would not advise it, because I have a lot of friends who have had challenges like lemons. If you buy a new car, the first year of that car, there’re a lot of things that need to get worked out. The very first year of that model of that car, there are kinks that have to get worked out. Well, it takes a little bit longer with a brand new team, and even Immanuel when we build a new community, we have team members that we’re pulling in who have a great deal of experience, that have already worked together, that are going into that community to make it vibrant and fresh and wonderful, and welcome new residents in it.

Jennifer Knecht
It’s not the same thing when you go to a community that’s just been built, as a whole new team has been assembled. Very realistically, it takes three or four years before a team gels, and typically there are people cycling in and out in that three or four years, sometimes even more depending on if they’re managed from far away, if they don’t have a close support system for that particular community. Sometimes they even cycle more now.  We’ve seen some of the outside communities that are coming in, the outside facilities that are coming in to senior living into our spaces, and we’re watching kind of a revolving door of their teams. And when you have a team that’s worked together for 25 years, when you have team members that know each other that way, they work like a well-oiled machine, which means, again, your experience is extraordinary.

Jennifer Knecht
You do not want to, and I guarantee, you nor your resident, your loved one, you do not want to be the guinea pig, like the science experiment on having to work out the kinks, because it’s about your life, it’s about a big move. Anytime you move to a new home, that’s a big move. It’s about a lot of emotion packed into that.  Sometimes there’s been a big life event, a big change of some sort, maybe a spouse that was lost, a longtime spouse, or maybe there’s a health event that changed something or maybe you just want a little bit easier life, but it’s still a big decision to make to move into retirement living, and you don’t want to have to make that decision again.

Jennifer Knecht
We’ve actually had a lot of residents in a couple of different communities in which we serve that have come to us specifically saying, “We thought this was going to be a great experience because it was a brand-new apartment. And these people said it was going to be amazing, we got there and nothing worked.” It just was one disaster after another because the team was trying to gel and they weren’t gelled together. So, when we talk about being of the community, that’s part of it as well, we’re very proud of the length and the longevity of our team members because we treat them well. Working together, that’s a big important thing for Immanuel. In fact, one of our values, one of our CHRIST promises is relationships, and that’s on both sides. That’s the team together having good relationships and us having good relationships with our families and our residents.

Lyn Wineman
That makes a lot of sense. Often in technology, right, you don’t want to be the first one to download the new software update. You don’t necessarily want to be the first one with the new iPhone, let the kinks work out. And that’s just technology, right? It’s not how your mom or your dad or your grandparents, your loved ones are living. So that does make a lot of sense.

Lyn Wineman
So, Jennifer, you brought up COVID-19 a little bit ago, and the pandemic is affecting us all. But honestly, I don’t think it’s affecting anyone more than seniors and health care workers, and you have both that you’re dealing with. And I’m just curious, how has that impacted Immanuel and your residents? And what are some of the things that you’re doing about it?

Jennifer Knecht
I’m going to start first, when we talk about healthcare heroes, I really want to say a shout out to everybody who is in healthcare, who is doing work to counteract, I guess, the ill effects of COVID-19. Here’s the interesting thing that I would say, as just in general, as a society in America, and just generally all over the world – we were hit with this pretty suddenly, kind of caught off guard in general, as the economy’s been hurt, as everything and everyone is doing their very best to quickly iterate, learn and get better and better and better.

Jennifer Knecht
And the one thing I would say about health care workers in general, I have never experienced a more resilient group of individuals able to learn and get better and better and better. And yet, they with their head upright, upright and hydrated, we joke about it all the time, if you’re upright and hydrated, things are good. But very truly, this has been a really stressful time for everybody inside of healthcare. And really, it’s because we went from… well, just so much fear, so many unknowns, it hit and then everybody was like, “Oh, my goodness, things are happening. It’s massively impacting people in a very serious way. Sometimes it’s killing people, this is a very scary thing.” And so the industry overall quickly, quickly was making changes.

Jennifer Knecht
On the regulatory side of things, we were on the frontline.  Team members literally were reimagining their work, the way they did their work on not even just an hourly basis, but sometimes on a per minute basis, we were having to go that quickly in reimagining what we needed to do. But the positive thing is, Immanuel was really well prepared. We’re a really solid organization, we’ve thought through, we’ve done a lot of disaster planning around things like this.  We never were planning for something like this to be impacting us for such a great length of time.  Obviously, it’s been a really long period of time, we thought when we started into everything with COVID-19, we were going to be hopefully just experiencing a couple months of all this craziness, and it’s now 10 months in and we’re continuing down the dirty.

Jennifer Knecht
But our team members, our heroes on the front lines, they continue to take everything, like the change, just one step at a time, and they still have smiles on their faces, and they’re tired. Our folks are tired from having to make changes in the way they reimagine their jobs. And it’s funny, but we don’t joke about it. I mean, it’s a really serious thing, you go from having to reimagine your job all the time, and then you go home to having to reimagine your life. So there’s no reprieve from the reimagining and the constant change. And people are definitely… I mean, everyone is tired about that, but the beautiful thing in Immanuel is they’re still very committed to making the personal sacrifices so that we can keep COVID-19 away from our residents, away from our employees, away from each other as much as possible.

Jennifer Knecht
To this point, we’ve been very, very successful in that, we certainly have been impacted just like everybody by COVID-19.  We have Pathways participants who are living in partner living communities out in each one of our regions, and some of them have been in communities that have been really impacted by COVID-19, which is not at all because of the Pathways program or not at all because of the team members and Pathways, but just the circumstances of where they are.

Jennifer Knecht
We’ve had residents who have gone out to visit their family members and unfortunately been infected with COVID-19 and come back to our community and they’re quarantining, that sort of thing. We have a very solid protocol and process whenever we have people come and go inside of our communities. And we’ve been really, I think, on the cutting edge on making the right, very conservative decisions on how we quickly make changes to the best of our ability to prevent and isolate any sort of massive ill effects happening inside of our communities.

Jennifer Knecht
But it’s real. I mean, COVID-19 is real and we have… every single individual has had to adjust to changes in their lifestyle. I mean, our communities have ebbed and flowed, we’ve gone back and forth and allowing… I call it micro group activities, we used to have nice sized group activities with 30, 40, 50, 100 folks at a time. Now we have micro group activities, depending on what’s going on inside that particular community. We’ve done a lot of one-on-one, we’ve done a lot of reimagining like, how do you do fitness? We started up a YouTube closed circuit channel so that we can do fitness in their apartments, and we’ve done all…

Lyn Wineman
That is so smart.

Jennifer Knecht
We’ve done a lot of really great innovative things. The wonderful thing about a community is that even though life has changed, and you as the resident have had to make changes along the way and make sacrifices, you’re not necessarily celebrating the holidays the same way this year as you would have been last year or the year before.  We’re keeping our residents safe. They know that if somebody comes into their apartment, they’ve been very well vetted. So you don’t have to worry about the cable person coming into your house and maybe bringing COVID in, or you don’t have to worry about not being able to go to the grocery store, and you’re running out of… just base supplies like toilet paper, right? We joke about that. But all of our residents have all of those basic supplies without having to worry about that. And I’m happy that, more importantly, they’re not completely isolated in their home.

Jennifer Knecht
So our residents, even though they may not be gathering in the same ways as they used to be gathering, they’re still able to connect with their neighbors maybe one-on-one in the hallway with a hallway visit and safely social distanced with masks on, or maybe just by knocking on the neighbor’s door and knowing that they’re there. But the loneliness part of things, and that’s the thing right now I’m most deeply passionate about.  We were passionate about loneliness and senior loneliness beforehand, but now, even just me personally, my own family, I’m seeing my own family completely disconnect from the world, and I can see how that’s wearing on them. And I believe that as human beings, we’re meant to be connected. I mean, if you look at The Blue Zones, when you’ve read the… You’ve read the book, The Blue Zones, right?

Lyn Wineman
I’ve read The Blue Zones, I’m a big follower, Thrive, all different aspects of it. Absolutely. Connection is an important part of happiness.

Jennifer Knecht
I mean, the places where people live the longest in the world, they have a good social network. And so when you take that away from folks, and that’s what’s happening in the community at large, loneliness becomes a very real, massive challenge. And I think that we haven’t yet felt the impact of that, as a society, we’ve been very focused on the health side of COVID. And I think we’re going to feel a very negative impact on the loneliness side. I think that’s going to start to really kind of raise its head as we move into the fall and winter, and the cold months where you can’t be outside engaging, socially distanced or whatever.

Jennifer Knecht
In our communities, we’re still figuring out ways to keep the folks engaged. So technology is a big thing. Technology’s a big learning curve, too. I mean, I’m not going to sugarcoat that, it’s challenging, and if you’re 75 years old, you might not want to learn how to do something new, I totally get that. I don’t want to go back to college and learn how to use technology. And I don’t understand why this isn’t working the way it’s supposed to be working. Well, our teams have worked really hard through all the changes in either tech enabling our residents, or in offering good tech support, or even just in having the tools available, so you can schedule a time to Zoom with your family using our technology, or you can schedule a time to FaceTime using our technology. And you don’t have to worry about figuring out how you install an app or you do this and that on your own device.

Jennifer Knecht
So those things, they’re tangible, but they’re actually really intangible in how they impact you as an individual. And for our seniors and our residents and even our family members, I’m really, really pleased that our teams are just such amazing heroes, and that they’ve reimagined how to provide extraordinary experiences, even though it’s a completely different world today than it was before. I mean, our residents never have to worry about being alone, our residents don’t have to worry about being scared by themselves, our residents don’t have to worry about the toilet paper or if they’re going to get food or if the grocery store is a scary place to go. I mean, our residents don’t have to worry about any of those things.

Jennifer Knecht
And we have so many thank you notes from grandkids and from kids that are living far away out of state saying, “I’m seeing all this stuff in the news that’s happening in my area, and I’m just so grateful and thankful, Immanuel, that you’re keeping my grandmother or my grandfather or both of my grandparents so safe, or my mom and dad so safe. I don’t know what I would do without Immanuel.” So that’s a pretty neat thing.

Lyn Wineman
Jennifer, it’s probably a good time for me to let everyone know too, probably one of those thank you notes is from my family, because my in-laws are in an Immanuel community, and as a daughter-in-law, I’m thankful that there are multiple people laying eyes on them, interacting with them every day when I can’t. And we try to visit in the safest, most protocol accepted ways possible, whether that’s electronically or distanced, or however we follow the rules, but it’s good to know that they’re not alone, and they’re well taken care of. So this is me saying thank you, right here on the podcast as well.

Jennifer Knecht
Thank you, Lyn, we appreciate that.

Lyn Wineman
Absolutely. We’ve talked a lot about how the pandemic has impacted the way you’re serving seniors and all of the things that you’re doing. I’m curious, as a marketing person, how has it impacted your job? What are some of the things you’re having to do differently because of the pandemic?

Jennifer Knecht
So I have two big things. I mean, kind of the common answer that I would guess most everybody is saying is technology, right? So it’s like we’ve compacted five years of innovation into three months. If you don’t like change, that’s probably a scary thing. If you’re like me, I was like, “This is fantastic. My five year roadmap for the digital strategy is now compacted into three months. And now let’s go.” So that’s been really fun for me, and for our team, we’re getting to innovate very quickly.

Jennifer Knecht
But the bigger part of that, which is the interesting thing, and I would guess that probably all of your listeners have experienced to some degree is this. So every person has a different penchant for change, right? We all have different types of mindsets, and I think the biggest thing that we have been focusing on in my team, I oversee both the marketing as well as the sales side of everything that happens inside of our communities and our Pathway centers, the single biggest thing that we’ve really been focusing on is mindset. You wouldn’t think that that would be the case. But mindset…there are a lot of individuals who maybe had a fixed mindset, or still have a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.

Jennifer Knecht
And basically, you’ve just kind of thrown them into the deep water and said, “You have to quickly become growth mindset, because if not, you’re not going to survive.” And that layered into all the stress of all the ongoing changes happening inside of our communities. I mean, there’s been a lot of changes that have been federally regulated or locally regulated from regulators on how we do our work, or how we provide what we provide. It’s taken a lot of resiliency, the mindset part of it is a much bigger… Technology are the tools, we’ve made a lot of changes in technology with the tools, and we’re doing digital tours, all those great things. But the bigger shift is, our sales team members are really good at building relationships, and they’re really good at doing those types of things. And now we’re having to figure out, how do we do that digitally? How do I change my mindset to quickly adapt to embrace the changes when I’m really good at what I was doing before and now I’m having to completely change what I was doing before?

Jennifer Knecht
So, the number one thing that we’ve been focusing on in our team is truly mindset because the mind is so incredibly powerful. I mean, the mind has…there are the three laws that basically govern the mind, the mind thinks in pictures and words. So, first of all, if we…whatever pictures and words you conjure up are really how you see reality. And if you think about that, it’s 100% true. It’s kind of the glass half full, we joke about that, right? The rose colored glasses, but it really is the pictures and words that you tell  yourself inside your mind or how your life comes to reality, essentially.

Jennifer Knecht
The second one that we’ve been really digging into with our teams is that the first thought, the automatic thought, you don’t control that first thought, the pictures and words that automatically come, but you control the second one. So if you can shift the second one, that’s how you start to embrace the growth mindset from our perspective, what we’re trying to teach our teams.

Jennifer Knecht
And then the third one is that the mind is essentially wired to keep you alive. So it’s going to automatically go to the negative. You think every situation is the tiger that’s trying to chase you down in caveman days and trying to kill you. If you don’t intentionally take control of your mind and switch it, it will take you down that path of the tiger chasing you all the time. And that constant state of stress, like, I have to change everything in the way I do my job right now. That constant state of stress that’s following you along, that 100% will drag you down. You cannot survive that stress added on with all the changes that are going on in your personal life just because of everything that’s happening with the pandemic.

Jennifer Knecht
So we’ve been doing a lot of true, in depth drills around the three principles of the mind and around how we as individuals, even if we don’t like change, can start to kind of step toward being more open to embracing change and seeing these challenges as ways in which we just get better. So, I’ve got some SLCs that are doing really well on the technology side. They’ve really embraced how they blend, building relationships using Zoom, but then hopping over to use the technology that we’ve created so that they have nice digital tours of everything. We invested a great deal of time and finances into digitizing basically our whole tour process, so you can take a beautiful tour of any one of our communities very thoroughly, looking up and down and all the way around. The technology’s amazing, you can linger as long as you want to, it’s not just a video. But it takes a little bit of adapting to be able to take somebody through that tour, but still be able to build a relationship with the individual.

Jennifer Knecht
We’ve had to go back to 20, 30 years ago when we were building relationships in junior high on the phone with our best friends, because we weren’t seeing them all the time, whatever that is. So that’s been the biggest challenge, but also, I think one of the greatest opportunities inside of COVID for us is that our team is becoming more resilient and learning some good tools in how they start to kind of flex the muscles of their growth mindset versus having a fixed mindset.

Lyn Wineman
I love that idea of flexing the muscles of your growth mindset, that’s fantastic. And Jennifer, I know that you are a student of human behavior and success and motivation. I’d love to get a few Jennifer Knecht words of wisdom that would serve as a quote that could inspire people who are listening.

Jennifer Knecht
Well, it all is about mindset, because I work on a very regular basis to try to conquer…we all have mean girl voices, if you’re a woman, you have a mean girl voice, if you’re a man, you have a mean guy voice. And the number one challenge in general that human beings have is that we, deep down, around something, have an insecurity of not feeling enough in some way around something. So I guess, my words of wisdom are, you can either succumb to the mean girl voice or the mean guy voice, or you can hear it and tell it that it’s wrong and quickly shift it.

Lyn Wineman
Nice, I love it. Tell it it’s wrong and immediately shift it. That’s fantastic.

Jennifer Knecht
It’s funny, I mean, sincerely, Lyn, I’ve done this exercise and it’s the funny thing, I would…so here’s my challenge to everybody out there. To you, if you’re a leader, or if you’re a mom, or if you’re a dad or whatever, I would challenge you, to the people that you’re leading in life, whomever that is, your friends even, challenge them to a 50 point brag off, 50 brag points about themselves. Can they sit down and write 50 brag points about themselves right now?

Lyn Wineman
That’s a lot. 50 is a lot, Jennifer.

Jennifer Knecht
It’s a very uncomfortable exercise, especially for people in the Midwest. We’re really good at giving other people compliments. But we’re not very good at giving ourselves compliments. And if you think about everything in life, it is the thoughts and the words, your thoughts become reality, because that’s how you proceed in life. Your words become reality, the pictures and words that you create in your mind are becoming reality, because that’s how you perceive life. If you’re not thinking about yourself in a positive way, you’re going to perceive that over and over and over. I think that’s what feeds into the victim mentality, sometimes it’s very easy to fall into like, “People are doing these things to me. That situation did this thing to me.” Well, we need to switch that quickly to, “What can I learn from that? What’s the opportunity inside of this, so I can take advantage of it?” You have to take advantage of your mind, not let your mind take advantage of you with the mean girl and guy voice.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. Jennifer, I feel like I could listen to you all day, but we are coming to the end of this podcast, and the last question I should really ask you is we talked at the beginning a lot about Immanuel and the way that you’re serving seniors and the great experiences you’re providing. If somebody wants to find out more about Immanuel, how can they find you?

Jennifer Knecht
Absolutely. Well, I would love to invite them to visit our website at Immanuel, I-M-M-A-N-U-E-L.com. We have a whole host of information there, and from there, you can determine who’s the best person to speak to, to learn things further.

Lyn Wineman
That’s fantastic. I think you’ve got a host of resources for seniors there as well. Is that true?

Jennifer Knecht
We do. Actually, right away, and your team helped us with a few fun stuff too. But right away, we did a whole Thriving at Home series. So, we have a whole resource section there on all sorts of interesting things you can do at home with your loved one or them by themselves so that they don’t just sit at home watching the news and get more and more scared because of the fear.

Lyn Wineman
Oh, that’s good, Jennifer. Very last thing here as we wrap up today, what’s one thing you want to make sure people remember from our discussion on this podcast?

Jennifer Knecht
I would say that, I would go back to ageism. So, this is a real thing and it’s funny because we kind of joke about it with ourselves. I joked about it with myself too, like the smile lines around my eyes that I want erased. But we all need to challenge ourselves to embrace the wisdom and the beauty that does come with age. Certainly, there are changes that come with age, but there’s a lot of amazing things that come with age as well – wisdom, confidence, just the ability to help other people. But whatever chapter you’re in, I would challenge all of our listeners to embrace that chapter.

Jennifer Knecht
If you know somebody who’s aging in your life, to absolutely think about how you might enrich their lives a little bit more. And that’s exactly what we’re doing every day at Immanuel, is trying to enrich the lives of the folks that we have the opportunity to come in contact with.

Lyn Wineman
What a lovely note to end on. Jennifer, I just think what you and Immanuel are doing for seniors is amazing. And it’s always great to talk with you and just get a dose of your passion and your energy and your wisdom. So thank you for taking time with us today.

Jennifer Knecht
I appreciate it. Lots of fun and a shout out to you and your team because it’s amazing to work with such a talented and fun team.

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