Linda Fulmer was handed quite the difficult test in 2010, when she was named community manager of an Etna senior living residence that had fallen on hard times.
Earlier that year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had placed the 46 one-bedroom apartment residence, which had once served as Etna High School, on its list of troubled sites. The building was tagged with a laundry list of noncompliance issues.
Under new management with SeniorCare Network, an affiliate of Presbyterian SeniorCare, Mrs. Fulmer and maintenance manager Michael Andrew Moore worked on the problems and ticked down the list of issues until Etna Commons earned a "Superior" rating from HUD in the spring.
"The walls were falling down outside of the building on High Street and in the parking lot," said Mrs. Fulmer in regard to the biggest problem she encountered when taking over the residence. Among the other high priorities were poor lighting in the hallways, old carpeting and an antiquated filing system.
"The files were in complete disarray. It would make an audit of the system very tough," she said. Overall, the renovation costs totaled about $650,000.
Etna Mayor Thomas Rengers, who also serves as president of the board overseeing Etna Commons, believes the turnaround is a major improvement in the borough. The board is made up of the mayor and representatives from four of the five churches in Etna -- Emmanuel Lutheran, Calvert Memorial Presbyterian, First Congregational and All Saints Parish.
"[The board] interviewed several management companies and felt it was overwhelmingly clear that SeniorCare was the right choice," Mr. Rengers said.
Mrs. Fulmer put the building up for a local award and this past June was recognized at the Pittsburgh Apartment Excellence Awards with a win in the Overall Community Appeal category for Elderly Housing. The plaque is hung by the community room next to the service board for all of the residents to see.
"The team aspect has always been a passion for me," says Mrs. Fulmer, smiling broadly with her bright blue eyes twinkling as she showcased the many transformations made to the residence in a year and a half -- coding floor colors to help residents find their way back to their rooms, refurbishing each apartment, renovating the auditorium and adding skylights, adding LifeLine Medical Alert to each apartment and landscaping.
Mrs. Fulmer believes she could not have done it without the residents, the community and especially Mr. Moore's help.
"I would wake up at night and think of something we needed to do," she said. "My mind was constantly working."
The building was converted to senior apartments in 1991.
Joan Clark, a resident and volunteer with the Etna Commons Resident Council, runs the flea market in the gymnasium in the spring and fall.
"I couldn't afford my two-story house and utilities on my own," Mrs. Clark said. "I felt moving was being forced on me. I didn't want to go to the 'Old Folk's Home.' " She sat in the Community Room, remembering her first visit to Etna Commons. "But now, I count my blessings."
She said she enjoys the community and her neighbors.
"Everything is also so well-maintained. I had a baby shower here for my family and I was so happy to show it off," she said. Pointing to the pair of matching green lamps, she said, "These were donated to us." She scanned the room and pointed out several items including the big-screen television a community member donated.
The support is felt all the way into the business district where the residents have their favorite stops and their favorite picks.
At Pollock's, associate Janet Mosesso said it is the chocolate strawberry cordials that keep the residents coming back. Justine McDonald, an associate at Cole Café said the egg salad sandwich is a favorite at Etna Commons. She makes deliveries often at the residence and will check in on her grandfather, who also is a resident.
Frank Ranalli, the local barber, graduated from Etna in 1960. Having come from Italy when he was 14 years old, he has been a barber for the past 50 years. He, too, has many customers from the residence, either cutting their hair at this shop or making a personal visit at the residence.
"It was just a building," said All Saints Parish's pastor, the Rev. John Gudewicz, referring to the operation prior to SeniorCare Network's arrival in 2010. "But Linda [Fulmer] has made it into a real community."
Father Gudewicz also serves on the Etna Commons board.
"There have been some seniors who have moved in with nothing but the clothes on their backs," Mrs. Fulmer said.
"No furnishings, no other clothes, nothing, and we make it our mission to help them, all of us here, to bring them into our community."
"What SeniorCare Network does so well is to assist everyone to age in place so you can still live independently for as long as possible," Mrs. Fulmer said. "We want our residents to feel supported. If they are coming back from an extended stay in the hospital, we can help."
Presbyterian SeniorCare is a not-for-profit, faith-based network of living and care options serving the needs of more than 6,000 older adults in Western Pennsylvania.
SeniorCare Network is their not-for-profit real estate management affiliate that provides affordable and comfortable communities for seniors to age in place in an atmosphere of dignity, respect and support.
Roxanne Tuinstra, freelance writer: email@example.com