For many of us, it was the “Try Us” program that really gave us the confidence that Kendal was the place we wanted to live. That was certainly the case for Jan and me. Before our Try Us stay, we were pretty sure we wanted to come to Kendal, but we still had a lot of questions, and not all of them could be answered by the sales and marketing staff. For example, during our Try Us we got a real sense of how much resident committees took responsibility for running programs. We also learned that Kendal residents really were accepting of others suffering from disability and illness. All retirement communities make claims about such things, but here we saw it in action. It made us comfortable with our decision to come to Kendal.

How it got started. To learn more about the program, I spoke with various people involved in Try Us now and in the past. The program has been around for less than 10 years of Kendal’s nearly 50-year history. It was started in 2011. The idea was brought to Kendal by Nancy Regenye, who heard about it at the annual marketing retreat for Kendal affiliates. Kendal at Oberlin was having great success with their program (which they called “Try It”).

Nancy brought the idea to the Kendal-Crosslands administration, saying that two hours with a sales person (the typical situation for new prospects) was just not enough for people to get to know what life is like here. She got approval of the concept.

The idea was fleshed out by a group composed of Kendal residents, Crosslands residents, and staff. Both Nancy Regenye and Connie Dilley were part of that group. On the resident side, Mary Lou Hale and Gale Jordan were involved. In addition to the name “Try Us”, they came up with a standard calendar for visits (Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning), and a template for the schedule (meals hosted by various residents, a tour of the central facilities, etc.). They decided that residents, not staff, would plan the details of the visit, based on the interests of the prospective residents. They enlisted the help of the Culinary staff to stock the refrigerator and provide meal vouchers.

Initially, a resident volunteer on each campus was recruited to contact the prospects and find hosts. Here at Kendal, that person was Mary Lou Hale, and she continued in the “coordinator” role until December 2018, when Betty Warner took over. Betty ran the program until last March, when the pandemic forced it to shut down.

The coordinator contacts the prospects, learns about their interests, recruits potential hosts who may be a good fit, and alerts the Culinary and Environmental Services departments about the dates of the visit. The host then does the detailed planning of the Try Us visits and contacts the prospects to make the arrangements.

It evolved differently at Crosslands. The resident who initially volunteered to coordinate the visits didn’t work out, so the marketing department stepped in and took on a bigger role in managing the program. This arrangement is still in place today. At Crosslands, the marketing department reaches out to a group of volunteers, each of whom acts as a host once or twice a year.

How it has changed. Throughout its history, until the pandemic temporarily ended the program, the overall scheme of the Try Us experience has remained much the same. But there have been subtle changes.

Perhaps the biggest change was the timing of the Try Us experience within the sales process. At the beginning, Try Us was heavily promoted, even to those at a very early stage in considering a retirement community. As a result, there were a lot of Try Us participants who didn’t end up moving to Kendal. It was even discovered that one couple had been travelling from one Kendal location to another, participating in the Try Us program at each, with no intention of actually moving in. With time, the marketing staff began vetting Try Us participants more carefully.

That shift can be seen in the program’s statistics. Mary Lou Hale checked her records and she tells me that, during the time she ran the program (2011-2018), 108 prospects participated in Try Us, but only 42 (39%) ultimately moved in.

Now, the Try Us program is promoted mostly to people who are not shopping around, but who are essentially looking for confirmation that they want to move to Kendal. Betty Warner reports that during her tenure (since January 2019), there have been just 11 Try Us visits. Of those 11, six (55%) have moved in, one is on the Ready List, and two more are still interested. Of the remaining two, one wanted to come but did not qualify and the status of the other is not known.

In addition, two Try Us visits scheduled for last March had to be cancelled because of Covid-19.

Many residents move here without ever having participated in Try Us, and they are comfortable doing so. But for some of us who were leaning toward Kendal but still had questions, it was a very important and reassuring part of our journey.

I am grateful to Mary Lou Hale, Betty Warner, Nancy Regenye, and Connie Dilley, all of whom made time for me to talk with them about the Try Us program.