Ask Jay Kittenbrink to describe his colleague Gates Smith, and one word keeps coming up: integrity.
That trait is why Kittenbrink, the senior development manager for Episcopal Retirement Services, asked Smith to join the board of St. Paul Village retirement community in Cincinnati’s Madisonville neighborhood in 1997. And it’s why he went on to become the chairman of the board, helping to oversee a complete renovation of the community when St. Paul Village joined the ERS family in 2008.
For the past six years, Smith has sat on ERS’s board and served on the Affordable Living and Development committees. This Friday, June 24, ERS will honor his accomplishments at the annual fundraising event, "It’s A Wonderful Life," which benefits Affordable Living by ERS. The event is sold out, but raffle tickets will be available until 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 23.
“Gates is a tremendous leader,” Kittenbrink said. “He gets people to buy in and follow good principles. He doesn’t do things for the wrong reasons, and therefore people really trust him.”
A marketing expert, Smith was formerly the Executive Vice President of Agency Operations for the Ohio National Life Insurance Company’s Financial Services division, where he served two years on Ohio National’s Board of Directors.
He and Kittenbrink met through their church, St. Paul Lutheran in Madisonville. After joining the board of St. Paul Village next door, they realized that the retirement community, built in the late 1970s, was badly in need of renovation and struggling to find renters. Even covering basic maintenance was a challenge. But attempts to refinance the property proved unsuccessful.
“It was pretty bleak,” Smith said. “We decided we needed to find a partner.”
The board interviewed three different organizations that could take over management of St. Paul Village and ultimately chose Episcopal Retirement Services. ERS helped them navigate financial hurdles and secured funding from a variety of sources, including low-income housing tax credits for a $25 million renovation of the community.
“It just goes to show you that the Lutherans and Episcopals can actually get along,” Smith said, laughing.
Why has Smith dedicated so much of his life to Affordable Living for seniors?
“I’m passionate about Affordable Living because you see the need,” he said. “The demand for Affordable Living is high, and the people who represented that demand were, in a lot of respects, helpless. They had no alternative.”
One in four Ohio seniors live in substandard housing, according to Maureen Gregory, ERS donor relations manager.
"For every apartment that becomes available, there are 10 seniors who are qualified,” she said. “There is a housing crisis, and ERS is making a difference.”
The June 24 ‘“It’s a Wonderful Life” fundraising event is vital to the day-to-day life for Affordable Living residents. More than 1,100 elders with limited incomes now call Affordable Living Communities by ERS home, and ERS has an expansion goal of operating 30 limited-income senior residences by 2020.
A major goal for ERS is to ensure that it provides robust resident support in all its Affordable Living communities. These services are essential to the quality of life for residents and allow them to age in place with the dignity that they deserve.
Affordable Living communities by ERS offer a myriad of amenities not typically found in low income housing including fitness, entertainment, spiritual and intellectual activities, computer availability and training, lending libraries and transportation.
"We’re providing more than just shelter,” Gregory said. “We are in the business of changing lives."