A Jewish communal leader with true Yiddishkeit in her spirit, Nancy Heinrich, 56, couldn’t be better suited for her pivotal role as CEO of Jewish Senior Life. She is fluent enough in Russian to greet the community’s older adults from the former Soviet Union in their native language. By profession and long practice, she is a real estate attorney who’s held a seat at the table over discussions of critical issues of Jewish communal concern. By family and collegial ties, Nancy is well connected to Federation’s network of agencies and board leaders. Her brother, Brian Siegel is CEO of the Jewish Community Center.  Her husband, Robert Heinrich, a strategic planning consultant to families, businesses and charities and Founder of Soul of Wealth, is a longtime community volunteer and a current co-chair of the Day School allocations committee of the Jewish Federation.

Furthermore, Nancy attributes her path to Jewish Senior Life to her friendship with Federation CEO Scott Kaufman. “Scott really has been the catalyst for my husband, my brother – as well as for me –  for our commitment to the Jewish Community. Back in 2000, Scott invited Brian and my husband, Bob, on the first Grosfeld Leadership Mission to Ukraine and Poland. When Bob mentioned to Scott that I would be a good fit for a similar mission to Kiev, Scott recruited me to the Kiev Committee where, ultimately, I served as chair. In retrospect, I would say that one of the most beautiful things about the Grosfeld Mission Program is that its impact touches many different segments of the community, even those who have not even participated in it. I’m a perfect example of a byproduct of the program!

As for the next generation of the Heinrich family, Nancy is proud to say that her two sons appear to be on community service paths of their own. Noah, 27, a Kenyon College grad, teaches computer coding to kids in Chicago. Married son Daniel, 24 – “a Brandeis graduate who loves all things Jewish” – is the Administrative Coordinator for a Conservative Synagogue in Portland, Maine, sits on the Jewish Film Festival Board and also works for the Orthodox shul there.

Committed, compassionate, optimistic, responsible and team oriented – all are attributes that put Nancy in good stead for the road ahead with Jewish Senior Life. On top of that list, she adds: Jewish!

On family background and early influences

I am a Detroiter – grew up in Huntington Woods and Birmingham; I have two phenomenal brothers and an amazing sister-in-law in town – Michael is a Dermatologist in practice with my father, Marvin; and Brian, JCC CEO, is also owner of Local Kitchen & Bar in Ferndale, and is  partners with Geoff Kretchmer in Star Trax, as well as owner of the Joe Dumars Fieldhouse. My sister-in-law, Margo, is a clinical social worker with a counseling practice for the visually impaired and their families in Farmington Hills.  My brothers and I went to U of M for undergrad and professional school; Mike went on to Med School and Brian and I went on to Law School there, and that’s where I met my husband, Bob. We lived in Chicago for 11 years, had our two boys there, then moved to Scottsdale, Arizona for four years. In 2000, when our boys were 8 and 10, we moved back to Detroit, basically to be with family again. We thought about returning to Chicago, where Bob’s family lives, but decided it was my family’s turn.

myJewishDetroit: Were your parents as involved in the Jewish community as you and your brothers?

A classic volunteer, my mother was a longtime volunteer and supporter of the National Council of Jewish Women and Orchard Children’s Services. As for my dad, he was in the physicians’ Maimonides Society and made calls for pledges to Federation’s Campaign every year.

myJewishDetroit: In your own career as a volunteer, you have an impressive track record. You’ve been a member of Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee and the Chair of the Israel and Overseas Department, a member of the Boards of Federation, University of Michigan Hillel and JSL. What brought you to JSL? 

I got involved with Jewish Senior Life through my law career; I worked with Nathan Upfal, in the Law Offices of Jackier Gould where my practice was concentrated in the field of commercial real estate law. Nathan was on the board of JSL and served as President; and because so much of what the agency does is involved with real estate, Nathan invited me to join the board in 2003. While on the board, I served as Vice President, then as the second President of JSL in 2009,  after the merger of the two agencies, Jewish Home and Aging Services and Jewish Apartments & Services.

 On Jewish Senior Life: transitions, challenges, opportunities

myJewishDetroit: How is Jewish Senior Life different today

Our agency is as old as Federation itself, providing residential services and care to the aging and most vulnerable members of our community since 1907. In 2009, the merger of Jewish Home and Aging Services and Jewish Apartments & Services created Jewish Senior Life –  a new agency to better support the growing needs of older adults in our community. Today, JSL provides market-rate and HUD-subsidized apartments for adults over the age of 62, as well as assisted living in 872 apartments in seven communities on the Eugene & Marcia Applebaum and A. Alfred Taubman Jewish Community Campuses in West Bloomfield and Oak Park. Within our independent living communities, dinners are provided five days a week and three meals a day are provided to our assisted living residents as are many additional supportive services. Our occupancy numbers can fluctuate, but our total capacity is 446 subsidized and 294 market-rate independent living apartments and 132 assisted living apartments – 35 in Oak Park and 97 on the West Bloomfield campus. Of those, about one  third are memory care accommodations.

JSL also serves hundreds of individuals living outside our communities in non-Jewish settings through its Jewish Community Chaplaincy and Outreach Program providing friendly visits, Shabbat and holiday packages, entertainment and Yiddishkeit. Additionally, we serve older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory/dementia related impairments and their caregivers at the wonderful Dorothy & Peter Brown Adult Day Program (run in partnership with JVS who has a sister center in Southfield) where individuals are cared for in a stimulating environment that encourages them to remain able, active and alert and provides respite for their caregivers. We also provide psychosocial supports for hundreds of Holocaust Survivors and their families through the program for Holocaust Survivors and Families. Finally, we have the only shelter in southeast Michigan for victims of Elder Abuse – the Center for Elder Abuse Prevention that provides a hotline as well as temporary shelter within our communities and support in resolving abuse situations and finding permanent safe housing.

That represents a lot of life in our hands.

Nancy Heinrich

“One of the most remarkable observations I’ve made is that there’s a wonderful sense of renewal here.”

myJewishDetroit: What do you see as your greatest strengths and opportunities as leader of JSL today?

I think one of my greatest strengths is my capacity for hard work. I’m a doer: I like to get things done. The challenge for me now is to become more than a doer: my new role is to become an agent of change, working to help the board and the community shape the vision for the future of JSL. I am a good collaborator and thinker; and with those skills,  I look forward to embarking upon a strategic planning effort with the board to take JSL to its next new level of service.

myJewishDetroit: What do you see as the greatest challenge of JSL today?

Our greatest challenge is to have the wherewithal and the flexibility to be able to respond to wherever the community is going to be in five, ten years. To do that we have to build our JSL Foundation, the fundraising arm of JSL. For years, we have recognized that we are in an older community. The fact that the Baby Boomer generation is now turning 70 will impact the kind of services we need to offer, as more seniors choose to age in place and then come to us later in life. Where residents in the past may have moved in with us between the ages of 70 and 75, now they tend to come to us between the ages of 80 and 90 and even older and in greater need of more supportive services.

There have been major shifts in health care that have impacted our level of need. Today, hospitals are like giant ICUs – they are used primarily for short term intensive care ;  you don’t go to the hospital for rehab – you go to a nursing home.  And you don’t go to a nursing home to spend years in care when you are frail, you go to assisted living. And you don’t go to independent senior living until you need some kind of support. So, our entire system has shifted. Our community is older and our seniors – many of whom are now well into their 80s and 90s – are in greater need of more supportive services.

myJewishDetroit: And what about their capacity to pay for those services?

The crazy statistic we live with today is that more than 35% of Baby Boomers have saved less than $50,000 for their retirement. If this trend continues, many Boomers will not be able to retire at historic retirement ages or in a manner that supports their current lifestyles.

Today, 50% of our residents require rent and meal subsidies. 60% of those subsidized residents have incomes below 30% median income which means their incomes are less than $15,000 a year, some substantially less even than that. Without support from the Federal government for rent and from JSL for food, transportation and assistance with daily living, these individuals would have very few options for a dignified life as they age.

Many seniors who want to age at home simply cannot afford the cost and will need Jewish Senior Life for subsidized housing. Others can afford to live in our market rate communities and will have the choice to live in other senior communities offering various lifestyle choices, but will choose to live in a JSL community for the Jewish values and services we create in those communities. Thankfully, because of the strength and support of our Jewish community, we can provide housing that is dignified and beautiful, and beyond that, serves kosher meals, celebrates Jewish holidays and provides a welcoming place to call home for those in need and for those seeking a Jewish communal environment. Everything JSL does is connected to Judaism, but everyone is welcome in our residences. We serve people of all faiths, beliefs and denominations.

On Jcare and community support

myJewishDetroit: How does the community factor into JSL support?  

In many ways: There’s Jcare – a full menu of non-medical support services, all private pay, but heavily subsidized by community funding. These services include assistance to residents with their daily needs, such as meal prep, laundry, bathing, and medication reminders.

Beyond Jcare services, caring for seniors is a community responsibility. Through FRIENDS of Jewish Senior Life, we have 700 volunteers who come into our buildings and work in the new and wonderful Sharon’s Boutique and Marvin’s Bistro in the Fleischman Residence/Blumberg Plaza and in the boutiques at the Norma Jean & Edward Meer Apartments and the Marvin & Betty Danto Health Care Center on the Applebaum Jewish Community Campus. Others participate in activities that enrich our seniors’ lives. And we have  young people who come in for intergenerational programs as well.

We need our community to support us every day, through volunteerism, but we also need the community to come together to support JSL in the meal and service subsidies we provide to our low income residents. For many more frail elderly, the alternative would be a Medicaid bed in a nursing home, and that’s not an option we’d like to see for any of our current residents, many of whom are still able to participate in activities and are not ready for that kind of an environment, as well as  many others who include Holocaust Survivors and older adults from the former Soviet Union.

Nancy Heinrich and Margo Tepolo

With sketchbook in hand and Shlomi on leash, Margo Teplo enjoys a sunny afternoon in the garden at Teitel.  “Every single thing that someone can do to make living here nice and easy for me, has been done with care,” she says.  “These have been the best years of my life. And it wouldn’t be that way if I weren’t here, and I mean that sincerely.”

myJewishDetroit: That’s the financial picture, what about the social picture? 

There are many studies that say social connection is what creates wellness and longevity. With that in mind, at Jewish Senior Life, the financial and social picture go hand in hand in our meal program. We believe that good nutrition is fundamental to our residential programs and that our dining rooms are also social halls, a primary means by which residents socialize and stay connected.

Again, our biggest challenge is the cost. For our residents in subsidized housing, we are subsidizing the cost of every meal. But we struggle with that as the cost of food continues to rise. So now, JSL is looking to the community for the first time. We have recently launched a campaign to raise funds specifically to secure the future of the kosher meal program and Jcare, both of which are vital to our mission of enhancing the quality of life of older adults through our residences, services and programs that support aging with dignity and choice and maximize independence.

myJewishDetroit: In what other ways does JSL turn apartment living into a new home life for our seniors?

We deal with people in transition, and transitions in life are never easy. But one of the most remarkable observations I’ve made is that there’s a wonderful sense of renewal here. People make new friends, but just as often, they rediscover old school friends and find something of a microcosm of the community in which they grew up. For many, making the move to JSL really feels like they are returning to something familiar that feels just like home.

The most gratifying piece of the job I do on any day of the week is when a resident comes up to me and says, “I can’t believe I didn’t make this move earlier.

On the wish list

An endowment for our kosher meal program! Meals first!  Then, the next priority would be an endowment for Jcare.

myJewishDetroit: And finally, what is your definition of aging gracefully?

Aging gracefully is accepting and embracing the process.  It’s about how we deal with certain limitations, not so much as how they deal with us. It’s learning that every stage in life has amazing opportunities, and having the ability to deal with life challenges as they come. You can look at the glass half empty, but if you have it in you to see the glass as half full – so much the better.  I see this in residents every day – those who view their world still as full, find that everybody loves to be with them.  And because everybody loves to be with them – they get so much more out of living here.

 “The most gratifying piece of the job I do on any day of the week is when a resident comes up to me and says, ‘“I can’t believe I didn’t make this move earlier.”’

The fun stuff

Restaurant: No question, it’s Local Kitchen and Bar in Ferndale (my brother’s restaurant)

Place to meet for coffee: Pick a Starbucks, any Starbucks.

Building in the Detroit skyline: The GM building – will always be the RenCen for me

Place to take kids and visitors: Fastest and easiest choice is the Detroit Zoo. The fence is just steps from my house.

Vacation places: Colorado and Israel

Sport: Yoga

Jewish holiday: Passover

Jewish food:  Potato kugel

Guilty pleasures: Binge watching TV

Never leave home without: My phone and list of board contacts, I carry my network of support everywhere I go.

Reading now: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande

Watching now: Fargo

Words to live by: As my mother always said, “If it’s beshert, it’s beshert (meant to be).”

More fun facts: Did I mention, the fifth member of our family, Sookie, the turbo beagle?.

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