Christwood Celebrates 25 Years: How Blue Sky Thinking Led To A Unique & Beloved Retirement Community

Celebrating 25 years at Christwood cookie

Pondering The Community’s Past, Present & Future With A Long-Time Resident

Do you remember what was going on in your life in 1996? In some ways, it doesn’t seem that long ago. But the reality is that a quarter of a century has elapsed since then. Christwood began welcoming its first residents in May 1996. Though, the history of our community goes back considerably further. Christwood celebrates 25 years!

A Look Back At How It All Started 

A Christwood resident since 2007, Anne Butts has been a part of it all. Anne was a member of the steering committee formed in the mid-1980s and one of the first board members at Christwood. According to Anne, Father Steve Holzhalb, who was rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Covington at the time, saw the need for older members of the church to have somewhere to live independently, with on-site health care services available if needed. Some of them had no family living nearby who could take them into their homes. Some had no choice but to move to New Orleans or other cities where there were more options for accommodating their needs.

So, as Anne recalls, Father Steve started thinking “way out of the box.” He envisioned a safe place where these members of the church and other older adults could continue their active lives here in Covington. To see what might be feasible, Father Steve, vestry member Jack Loman (whom Anne describes as “quite an interesting dynamo,” and who would later become Christwood’s first executive director) and a few others who embraced the idea of creating a community specifically for Covington’s older adults began visiting retirement communities in other states.

“They were really blue-sky thinkers,” Anne said. “There were continuing care retirement communities in other places, but there was nothing like that here. They came up with an idea and a plan that was really foreign to Louisiana.”

Evolving To Meet The Needs Of Those We Serve

Initially, Christwood offered independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing. The concept of a continuing care retirement community was quite unique to the Covington area. So much so, it took some time for people to grasp the true value of the active, secure lifestyle they could have here.

Prior to construction, more than fifty percent of the residences were reserved by pioneers and pilgrims, as Father Steve has referred to them. Gradually, the demand for independent living residences grew. So, in 2007, Christwood added the cottages. Anne and her husband, Randy, lived in one of these “spacious and gracious” cottages when they first joined us.

Along with expanding our residential options, we’ve broadened our health services as well, adding rehabilitative care and cognitive memory care. We also now have Vieux Care, an on-site direct primary care medical practice with doctors who are on call 24/7.

The Vibrancy Of The Community Center 

Another significant addition is the 23,000-square-foot Community Center at Christwood, which opened in 2013. The center has allowed us to bring a wealth of health and wellness opportunities to residents of Christwood. In addition, it’s helped Christwood become a more integral part of the larger Northshore community. With a membership, people who are 55 or older and live in or near Covington can enjoy a number of activities, like:

  • swim in the heated, indoor pool
  • take any of the fitness classes
  • enjoy a relaxing treatment at the Lotus Spa
  • participate in social events at the center
  • have lunch at the Forever Fit Kitchen.

“It keeps us going. It keeps us connected with people who are younger,” Anne said, referring to the Community Center. She noted that non-resident members are often “impressed” by how active, able and vibrant the residents of Christwood are. “We’ve got good balance, and we can jump around with the rest of them,” she said with a laugh.

Providing Care To The Community 

In 2019, we introduced a new in-home division of Christwood, called At Your Service by Christwood, that offers a combination of in-home wellness care and home maintenance services to both residents and non-Christwood residents living in St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa Parishes who are 55 years and older. At Your Service provides an array of a la carte services. These services include:

  • in-home companion care
  • personal assistants
  • housekeeping services
  • lawn and gardening
  • home maintenance needs such as pressure washing, gutter cleaning, and painting

Residents of Christwood can also hire these caregivers and maintenance workers for services that are beyond the scope of what is already provided as part of their contract. For example, having their garden planted if they live in one of the cottages or having custom shelving made for their home.

Today, we’re known as a Life Plan Community—and more than 270 residents choose to make Christwood Retirement Community their home. Even so, we still have that warm and welcoming “small town” environment we started out with 25 years ago. And, as Christwood’s executive officer, Father Steve continues to guide our community into the future.

It’s The People Who Make The Place

What’s the secret to our “close-knit” atmosphere? The people who live and work here.

Long-time staff members like Maw Maw and Anthony, who’ve cooked for at least two generations of residents at Christwood. Maw Maw was the only one in the kitchen when Christwood first opened, and she still comes back on holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day to prepare her turnip and mustard greens, fried chicken and fried catfish. Joe, who was our first security guard and just retired a couple of years ago. Jackie, who worked for two decades in housekeeping, retired, and then came back to work at the front desk on weekends. Little Bit, who has overseen the community’s laundry operations for at least 15 years. Victoria, who had three children when she started here and is now a grandmother. She started as a part-time receptionist; these days, she looks out for the residents who live in the Atrium and is like a member of their family.

These are just a few shining examples of the many staff members who have made, and continue to make, Christwood such a special place to live and work.

“They do a magnificent job of taking care of us, providing what we need,” Anne said. “To have someone work here 20 years is extraordinary, but it’s really not that rare. We’re now celebrating at least one a year.”

And then, of course, there are the residents.

“We all come from different places. That’s what astonishes me,” Anne remarked. “Those who live here have led very interesting lives—extraordinary lives! Like designing the rocket for the Jupiter launch. We have a former Rockette … one of the first Delta flight attendants … one of the first female pilots in the country. Who would’ve thought, how these people came together from everywhere? It’s really astonishing!”

When The Going Got Tough, We Pulled Together

Residents and staff at Christwood rose in truly admirable ways to meet the many challenges the pandemic presented throughout 2020 and well into the current year. Volunteerism took on a whole new profile, and we found creative ways to safely help each other and maintain our sense of connection within the community and beyond. Life went on, comfortably and securely—albeit with some modifications.

“COVID has broken all the rules,” Anne said. “But you know, we sailed through it, and I think it showed what a harmonious group we are.”

Life Moves Forward—Full Speed Ahead

Even the size and the physical attributes of our community worked in our favor. Compared with many other retirement communities in Louisiana and across the country, Christwood has a relatively small number of residents, and our beautiful 117-acre campus provided ample opportunities for them to get outside and explore to their heart’s content.

The symbiotic intergenerational relationship between Christwood Retirement Community and Christ Episcopal School, which is adjacent to our campus, provided another welcome diversion as residents and students connected through the 2020 Pen Pal Program. The program led to new relationships that have proved beneficial to those on both sides of the communication threads.

Now, as we’ve been able to gradually and cautiously ease some of the restrictions, we have much to celebrate in addition to our 25-year anniversary. We’ve begun to enjoy more of the social aspects of our community once again, and the Community Center has resumed its place as a hub of activity for residents and members, with safety protocols still in place, naturally.

“You can choose to be isolated if you want, but you don’t have to be,” Anne said. “I took two classes at the Community Center this morning and then went back this afternoon to hear the president of the parish, who came to speak to our community. This has been a typical day—there hasn’t been an hour where I haven’t had something I wanted to do. And did!”

An Exciting Time At Christwood Retirement Community

To mark our first 25 years of providing a safe, secure environment where people “of a certain age” can continue to thrive, we have a series of events planned for the next several months. For example, as a symbol of longevity and a nod toward the future, we recently held a tree-planting ceremony.

We’ve also commissioned a written history of Christwood Retirement Community, which we’ll unveil later this summer. And in October, we’ll be hosting a bona fide gala, “with music and the works,” as Anne put it.

“It’ll be a big wingding, as only our fabulous chef can do,” she said.

The excitement isn’t just about the past, though. Even as we reflect on all that we’ve been able to accomplish so far, we’re also looking to the future with great enthusiasm. A Master Plan task force has been formed to develop plans for additional residential offerings and an outdoor recreational sports complex that will complement the Community Center.

An easy way to keep up with everything that’s going on at Christwood is to follow us on Facebook. We’re constantly posting new photos and updates to share the joy of living and working in such a wonderfully special place.

Is Our Community The Right Move For You?

If you’re wondering whether Christwood would be a good fit for you, we encourage you to take a closer look. Just contact us and let us know you’re interested. We’ll gladly send you information and take you on a virtual tour if that’s your preference. If you’re ready to come visit us in person, we’ll be happy to arrange a time for you to come see why those who live here love it here.

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