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Published: January 5, 2024

2023 LGBTQ group with Pride flagThe next time you attend a concert or visit a grocery store, take a minute to look around and see all the ways people are different.

Gender and skin color are the most obvious differences, but what about the woman getting around in a motorized scooter or the man dressed in tattered jeans? You’re likely to see couples, both same sex and opposite sex, and people of all ages wearing T-shirts, jewelry, tattoos and the like espousing a certain lifestyle or political view.

Understanding and embracing all diversity is one of the founding cornerstones of Kendal at Oberlin, a life plan community that opened over 30 years ago.


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Both staff and residents work together toward a common goal, says Toni Merleno, director of Human Resources. She notes that, “At Kendal, I must accept everyone; however, I do not have to agree with everyone.”

Kendal at Oberlin and other affiliates in The Kendal System are founded on Quaker values and principles. Kendal at Oberlin altered SPICES, an acronym of the Quaker beliefs, to SPLICES so it includes “love:”








A Strategic Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Kendal at Oberlin's 2022 Strategic Plan identifies seven key points of focus for the retirement community over a five-year period. A commitment to advancing our efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is one of those key initiatives. Kim Preston, Director of Community Outreach, leads the DEIB committee, comprised of staff and residents. The group has arranged to host "Safe Zone" training for the larger community with LGBTQ+ Lorain County. They also support an ongoing Racial Equity Forum lecture series (open to the public). The forum seeks to examine racism in America, seeking a more equitable future.   

Kendal is located in a college town known for its diversity and support of progressive causes and social justice. Founded in 1833, Oberlin College’s earliest graduates included women and Black people.  Fast forward to 2017, when Oberlin City Council unanimously voted to change the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in recognition of Native American roots.

Here is just a sampling of how Kendal promotes diversity.

Gay Pride Isn’t Just an Annual Event at Kendal

Kendal fosters a welcoming environment for residents regardless of sexual orientation.  

When Nancy Lombardi and Ann Francis were looking for a place to retire, finding a community supportive of gay rights was “very high” on their list. They moved to Kendal in May 2015 and have found both the retirement community and city of Oberlin “open and accepting.” They are active members of Kendal at Oberlin's LGBTQ+A committee (the "A" is for "allies"), which supports LGBT residents at Kendal. It also educates and advocates around LGBT issues.

LEI Badge - Long term care equality indexSAGECare Platinum 2023 badgeIn 2023, Kendal at Oberlin was recognized as a "High Performer" in the inaugural Long Term Care Equality Index (LEI) by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The community also received SAGECare Platinum certification, acknowledging completion of extensive staff training to improve care for LGBTQ+ older adults. 

Young and Old Connect on Many Levels

Intergenerational ties are strong in both the city and retirement community. Oberlin was named one of the top five intergenerational communities in the nation by Generations United and the MetLife Foundation. Kendal’s intergenerational activities are designated a “Program of Distinction” by Generations United, with emphasis on bringing generations together.

With an Early Learning Center located on campus, residents and children interact daily. Many residents volunteer their time reading, cooking and going on field trips with the preschoolers.

In addition, many informal and unplanned activities happen daily.

During walks and other outings to the swimming pool and elsewhere, children and residents stop to chat and share a greeting. Postcards are made and delivered to new residents, and artwork dropped off to the children’s favorite “grandfriends.”

Many high school students work in the dining room, and they often form friendships with residents.

Through Oberlin College classroom projects, mentoring programs and countless informal connections, college students and residents regularly interact. They share meals, visit the Allen Memorial Art Museum and attend programs at the college’s Conservatory of Music and elsewhere. 

Benefits for older adults who regularly interact with young people include:

  • Improved physical health: They burn more calories, experience fewer falls and are less reliant on canes.
  • Improved mental health: They perform better on memory tests, and those with dementia experience more positive effects than in non-intergenerational activities.
  • Improved emotional health: Feelings of isolation and depression decrease and self-worth and happiness increases.

And studies show that communities are more vibrant and have a deeper appreciation for cultural heritage and traditions.

Religious Affiliations Are Diverse, Too

Spend a day at Kendal at Oberlin and you’ll notice some things that are different from most other continuing care, or life plan, retirement communities. Our values and practices, are rooted in Quaker principles. Here are just a few examples. 

  • Residents are engaged in decision-making and governance of the community;
  • Committees strive to make decisions by consensus;
  • Staff and residents are addressed by first name without titles;
  • Many meetings begin, and sometimes end, with a moment of silence.

But residents of all faiths, as well as those without a faith community, live at Kendal. The community celebrates Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. The annual Solstice celebration is an inclusive and joyful holiday event planned by residents each December.  

In the city of Oberlin, residents find a wide range of religious organizations and services.

Inclusion Regardless of Abilities

Unlike some retirement communities, residents live and eat together regardless of their physical and cognitive limitations. Residents in independent living cottages and apartments and assisted living apartments interact daily in many ways. They may dine together, attend a program in the Heiser Auditorium, swim in the lap or therapy pool or play table tennis together.

Because the Stephens Care Center, which includes assisted living, memory support and skilled nursing, is located in the main building, residents routinely walk through the center on their way to meals and other activities. Informal visits and gatherings occur regularly.

Jameson House, Kendal's memory support neighborhood, opened in 2018. The house is based on the “small house model,” designed to create a supportive environment for up to 12 older adults with cognitive impairment while promoting their optimal level of independence and community interaction.

“The engagement of Jameson House residents with the rest of Kendal and the engagement of the Kendal community with Jameson House is vital,” explains Stacy Terrell, Chief Health Services Officer. “Community interconnectedness and maintaining relationships throughout the continuum of care have always been a primary objective of our community’s design.”

Diversity Supports Lifelong Learning

Promoting diversity in all its many forms helps foster lifelong learning, as people learn new ways to tackle old problems and challenge deep-rooted, often biased beliefs.  And diversity can make us smarter, according to an article in Scientific America, helping us to be more creative and inquisitive. 

Writes Katherine W. Phillips, Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics and senior vice dean at Columbia Business School:

“The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think. This is not just wishful thinking: it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.”

Kendal Is Unique

You can find the atmosphere of acceptance, collaboration, and openness at Kendal at Oberlin in few other retirement living communities. We’ll happily send you a brochure, but the in-person contact with residents and staff can’t be beat. Schedule a tour by contacting us online or calling Elisabeth at 440-775-9062.

This blog was first published in September 2017, and updated in January 2024.

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Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.