Fostering A Welcoming Environment at Ann’s Choice

“Soon after settling into my apartment home at Ann’s Choice, I joined the writer’s club,” says Mary Lee Friesz, who moved to the Erickson Senior Living community in Bucks County, Pa., in 2018.

With three published books of poetry and 20 years of experience writing articles for a newspaper in California, Mary Lee was excited to meet some fellow wordsmiths.

“I was just following a passion of mine, but the club has helped me grow in so many ways,” she says. “When my granddaughter came out to me, I didn’t know how to talk about it at first. The writer’s club helped me find the right words to say.”

Mary Lee penned a poem titled Just the Right Shoe, a heartfelt birthday gift to her granddaughter. The poem found its way to resident Sandy Heller–editor of Choice Chatter, the community’s newspaper–who had her own story of a family member coming out to her.

“After talking one day, we came to the profound realization that many people at Ann’s Choice have children or grandchildren in the LGBTQIA+ community,” Mary Lee says.

Together, Mary Lee and Sandy created a resident support group for LGBTQIA+ people and their family members, inspired by the community’s existing Pride Committee.

Lots to learn

Once the support group was up and running, Mary Lee and Sandy wasted no time scheduling events and speakers for people to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community and what it means to be an ally.

“The monthly speakers have been phenomenal,” says Mary Lee. “One month, my daughter visited campus to speak about what it was like for her child–my granddaughter–to come out at the age of 23.”

The support group has also accumulated many educational resources for its members.

“I had the privilege of meeting Brian Bond, the executive director of PFLAG in Washington, D.C., which is the largest and oldest support group for LGBTQ people,” Mary Lee explains.

She adds, “When I told him about the support group at Ann’s Choice, he said, ‘That’s wonderful! There’s going to be a big box waiting for you with four different publications that you can have available to your group.’ The booklets have been very helpful in educating members.”

Community pride

The support group also works closely with the community’s staff-led Pride Committee, which provides opportunities for community members to celebrate diversity through events and educational resources.

“The committee was born out of the idea to host a Pride Parade for the community,” says Tina Ruzzi, community resources manager at Ann’s Choice. “We put feelers out to all departments to see if anyone would be interested in planning the event. Lots of people were excited!”

The community’s first Pride Parade, held in 2021, was a huge success.

“It was so well-received that we hosted another parade in 2022,” notes Ruzzi. “This past year, we expanded our efforts to host an entire Pride Festival indoors, and it exceeded our expectations.”

She continues, “Drag queens performed; residents and staff members dressed in costumes, wigs, or bright colors; and everyone was dancing to music. Many residents told us that it was the best activity they’d ever been to on campus.”

Powerful partnership

Recently, the passionate Pride Committee has helped Mary Lee and Sandy organize sessions in which staff members volunteer to speak about their personal experiences.

“A member of the dining services staff who identifies as non-binary came and spoke with the group. It was an enlightening experience,” Mary Lee says.

“Our mission is to help the community come together and celebrate one another–whether they’re part of the LGBTQIA+ community or a loving family member or friend,” notes Ruzzi.

Transformative impact

Looking back on her six years at Ann’s Choice, Mary Lee credits the people around her for her rewarding retirement.

“When I visited Ann’s Choice, I was so impressed with all the amenities on campus. I never thought that I’d have a pharmacy and a salon–plus tons of clubs and activities–just steps from my door,” says Mary Lee. “But the residents and staff members here have made the biggest difference in my life.”

She continues, “I never dreamed that I’d be leading a support group for the LGBTQIA+ community, but here I am! It’s important for everyone to have a safe space, and I’m glad that I can provide that for people. One resident joined our group so he can learn more and relate to his grandchild. That’s what our group is all about.”

To learn more about affordable, independent senior living at Ann’s Choice, visit AnnsChoice.com to get the scoop on amenities, floor plans, and so much more.

Caption: After Mary Lee Friesz’s granddaughter came out as transgender, she helped create Advocates for LGBTQIA+, a support and discussion group at Ann’s Choice.