Now what? Finding community among strangers


By Marianne Delorey

Moving day has come, your toothbrush was swept into one of the many boxes before you. You start unpacking the boxes, picking up each item and holding it for a minute. You are aware of what you left behind. But what lies ahead?

Moving to a new place is such an emotional roller coaster. People can experience dread and loss in equal measures with hope and excitement. But once the decision has been made and the move accomplished, how do new people actually find community without losing themselves in a new home?
 Making matters more complicated, many aging adults go from their own home into a multiunit building — your neighbors are so close, and you don’t even know them yet. How do people cope with such a huge transition?

Start with your space. Your four walls are a blank slate and represent a new start. Decorate them to show who you are, what you love and where you have been. Make sure your space fits your style — comfortable or chic, contemporary or classic.

Don’t forget to garden. If your community allows it, make sure you plant outside your patio or put tomato plants on your balcony. Nothing says home like dirty fingernails.

Next, learn the community space — ask for a tour of the property even if you’ve been there a month. As the best way to learn something new is to teach it, offer to guide tours for applicants.

As part of offering to guide new applicants, study activity calendars and learn routines. Find out who does puzzles in the library or plays bingo on Saturdays. There is no requirement that you join in, but if you know who is doing what in each area, you know what your possibilities are.

Slowly, you will learn names. You will learn who to ask for a cup of coffee or who to see with maintenance questions. You will learn who to avoid and who to welcome when they approach you. You will find your community. If you want to hurry up the process, try reaching out. One of these activities might just bring you closer:

•Hold a yard sale;

  • •Bring cookies to neighbors;

•Join activities;

  • •Start a book club;
  • •Start a reminder list of names in your unit. Keep notes on how to remember their names;
  • •Babysit your grandchild or grand dog and take a walk around the grounds. Many people will stop you to meet your company;
  • •Start a newcomers club.

Be prepared for the honeymoon period and be prepared again for it to end. Make a list of the reasons you decided to move. Reference this list when you are feeling like moving was a bad idea. Acclimation takes time. Know that you made the best decision you could at the time and appreciate what you got that you wanted. If this community is truly not the right fit for you, look around to see what else is out there. But give it time first. Truly let yourself sink in. Most often, community will find you.

And finally, successful integration comes from what you seek. You probably remember Groucho Marx’s famous quote, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Ask yourself, what did he seek? Approval and acceptance? Don’t think of your blank slate on life like this. Think like Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.” For it is only when we are choosing community for what we can give that we also welcome community into our lives.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or and Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at