The first thing that strikes you as you walk into Lake Forest is the breathtaking view of Lake Champlain and the mountains of Vermont. As I walked into the main gathering room I was drawn through the dining room to the enormous windows where I enjoyed the gorgeous panorama for a few minutes.
I met with Kevin Defayette, Lake Forest’s executive director, on a cold and windy day, but the atmosphere inside could not have been warmer. Built in 1999 on the shores of Lake Champlain, the location for this retirement community is ideal.
Defayette took me on a tour of the main building and its four wings, each with 11 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Two of the wings look directly out at Lake Champlain. There are also nine duplexes totaling 18 units, each with two bedrooms that are a short walk from the main building.
Our tour started in the elegant dining room, which features beautiful chandeliers and a huge fireplace that gives off enough heat to make you feel right at home. We continued on through the activities room where residents were participating in exercise class. Along the hallways, I noticed paintings by local artist Louise Patinelli and some intriguing photography by Lake Forest resident Michael Matzkin. Defayette said that different artists have exhibits here all the time. I noticed the doorways to resident’s apartments were uniquely decorated with seasonal ornaments.
We made our way to the solarium where sunshine abounds and plants are cared for by the residents. The stately library is a place where residents can relax and read, borrow a book, or gather to play cards and Trivial Pursuit. They can also reserve the library in advance in order to accommodate family gatherings. There is no hands-on assistance at Lake Forest, but residents are free to hire private help and Hospice is always welcome to assist.
It appeared that there was a lot going on here. Four gentlemen were waiting to leave for a guys’ lunch at Sip, while others were unloading their groceries from the Lake Forest minivan. The activities calendar for this month featured a plethora of things to choose from, such as Mahjong, shuffle board, craft group, bocce ball, birthday parties, and a trip to Elfs Farm Winery and Cider House for wine tasting. A ladies’ lunch at Applebee’s and the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir were also on the schedule. Activities director Tiana Barten and resident assistant Laura Frenyea are very busy, to say the least.
Lake Forest Senior Living Community is a not-for-profit retirement community governed by a board of 14 directors; Christopher Booth is the president. Payment is essentially a rental agreement of one of two types: Defayette is always glad to meet in person with prospective residents to explain the two rental options as well as the long list of amenities included. Homemade dinners Monday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday are included, as is transportation to doctor appointments, grocery stores, hair salons, pharmacies, and other shopping. Lifeline, cable, cleaning services, some laundry, and other amenities are also on the list. Overnight guest lodging and meals are available at a reasonable price for those residents who entertain out-of-town guests. All duplexes and some apartments have a one-car garage.
Defayette told me that when he first thought about applying for the executive director position, he wasn’t sure if this was right for him, but as subsequent interviews took place, the Lake Forest Community drew him in. Much of Defayette’s background has been in the human services arena, so this job was the perfect fit for him. “I feel really good here,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to see the people here enjoying a good quality of life. They look out for one another, too. You can’t always change people’s lives, but you can increase the quality of their lives.” He told me the average age for the 75 residents at Lake Forest is in the mid80s. “There is a feel-good feeling in my job and I love it.”
That good quality and comfort level at Lake Forest Senior Community is noticeable to visitors. Since its inception Lake Forest has made a pledge to Quality First which is a nationally recognized agenda sponsored by the Leading Age. (www.aahsa.org) Lake Forest has signed and completed the Quality First covenant, which identifies 10 principles that have shaped the practices and policies of the organization.
Defayette’s first big project when he took over the reins a little over two years ago was to reclaim the view of Lake Champlain. He enlisted the help of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the City of Plattsburgh, and a logging company to thin the underbrush blocking the beautiful view of the lake and to bring the sunshine back into the dining room. “The residents loved it,” he said. Defayette is already looking at his next big project: construction of two more duplexes that is expected to start in spring 2018 and hopefully be finished by summer. These four units are already spoken for, so there may be even more building projects in the near future. Defayette said he can’t wait to get started.