The following are remarks Matthew Lewis, president and CEO of Village Shalom, gave last month at the senior health care meeting of the Association of Jewish Aging Services at the White House.
I am humbled and honored to be here today representing Village Shalom and the Kansas City Jewish community, though I wish it was under different circumstances.
I want to thank you for the outpouring of support you have shown Village Shalom in the wake of the tragic events of April 13. Village Shalom has received countless gestures of support from people of all faiths across the globe. There are no words to adequately convey how much this support has meant to our community and the integral role it has played in our healing process.
As of today, it has been exactly two months since the deadly shooting that took place on our campus. It’s almost impossible to describe what the last couple of months have been like. The experience has been surreal and it felt as though time stood still for weeks. Although Village Shalom constantly trains staff on emergency management, nobody truly thinks this type of thing is going to happen to them. It always happens somewhere else.
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The shooting has had a palpable effect on our entire community. The incident rocked our sense of safety and security. This tragedy happened literally in the front yard of our residents’ home. It’s a trauma that leaves you feeling violated in the place where you should feel the most safe and protected: your home.
But the loss, hurt and grief surrounding the senseless death of a family member has run much deeper. The victim, Terri LaManno, frequently visited with her mother over the last six years and was a close friend to many of our staff.
Terri was a wonderful person and a loving daughter with a generous spirit. She came from a large family — one of deep faith. Terri’s siblings inquired often about the safety and well-being of others. They were relieved and grateful that no one else was killed or injured.
Terri’s death, coupled with the grief it has brought to her entire family, has been especially heartbreaking for our staff and residents. Grief counselors were onsite the morning after the shooting and made available to all staff, residents and family members.
In the days immediately surrounding the shooting, staff members from across every discipline spent extra time on campus offering support to residents and encouraging their fellow team members. Many even came in on their days off. I heard several say that Village Shalom was the only place they wanted to be — to do whatever they could to reassure residents and each other.
Truly, it is at the most challenging times that you find out what your team is made of and who on your team personifies the values of the organization. Our staff is comprised of devoted, compassionate professionals, and I am so proud of them.
The day of the shooting — and nearly every day since — I have received compliments on the staff for the manner in which they responded to the situation. Our residents report they always felt safe, protected and reassured. Throughout this ordeal, our residents have been amazingly resilient.
One of the most important things we’ve learned is that much of our strength has emanated from a wide circle of friends. In reflecting on the tragedy, the aftermath could have been much different had we not had the faithful support of the community. While Kansas City does not have a particularly large Jewish population — about 20,000 — our strength is not so much in our numbers, but in our cohesiveness.
For the last 10 years, Village Shalom has been very intentional in forging strong alliances with our Kansas City community — both Jewish and secular. This priority is woven into the fabric of life at Village Shalom. We have invested time and resources into maintaining strong working partnerships. We mindfully sought collaboration of every kind — and at every turn. We have maintained transparency within our organization and with our constituents.
Internally, we have been just as intentional in building authentic partnerships with our staff — individually and collectively. We have diligently maintained a culture of mutual respect, with strong values and caring and compassionate team players. We have stressed that each employee plays an important role in our daily successes and is pivotal in paving the road for future growth. Everyone has an equal voice at Village Shalom and each person can help us become even better at what we do.
Our commitment to building and maintaining a cohesive team and strong ties with our community partners has never proved more valuable than it did in the hours, days and weeks following the shooting. Throughout it all, and amid countless distractions and emotionally jarring circumstances, our team remained calm, focused and intent on providing exceptional care for our residents.
We are forever changed and there is a new normal. However, we are a much stronger organization. And more than ever, we are focused on our core purpose.
While I am prayerful that all our member communities never face the kind of tragedy Village Shalom has endured, we are sure to face challenges. As we prepare our organizations for the uncertainties ahead, we should continue building cohesive partnerships within our home cities and invest time and energy into our most valuable asset: The dedicated professionals who staff our organizations. In doing so, we reinforce our commitment to the life-giving, loving work we do every day in caring for our elders — in the face of any challenge.
In closing, I want to again thank you for the opportunity to share some of my personal reflections on the tragic events of 4/13. Your support has helped to sustain us through a very difficult time, and we are forever grateful.
Matthew Lewis is president and CEO of Village Shalom. To submit an As I See It piece, email 700 words to 816 Editor Elaine Adams, firstname.lastname@example.org.