As the activities director at my retirement community, it is very important that the new residents and older residents have a program to get to know one another. As I mentioned in my Welcoming New Residents article, after new residents move into the community, they are treated to a special lunch so that this new “class of residents” is welcome onto our “campus.” That, along with a few other items done within the first few months of their arrival is key to their immediate socialization and happiness within the community. Please see the article to learn what else we do for our “newbies.” The next step is to introduce them to the community at large.
I like to host a Getting to Know You Party once a year. We have 5 separate buildings on our campus. I usually invite two or three of the building at a time to the social. The pizza party has been the most popular so far. I ask the residents to sign up for the party, and charge them a minimum fee to cover the pizza. I order the pizza from outside the community. (Pizza made in our kitchen is alright, but take-out pizza is a treat!!) I do order drinks and dessert, usually cookies or brownies, from our culinary department. I figure each resident will eat at least two pieces of pizza, so having them sign up helps with the ordering.
I make name tags showing the residents name and apartment number based on the sign up sheets. Make sure to have blank tags, as there is always someone who did not sign up. The last time that I ran the party, I waited until most of the guests had arrived and then asked them to come in, and take a name tag of someone who they did not know. I then encouraged them to join the group, and ask around until they find the person. Once they find the correct person they give them their name tag. It is a bit confusing to some, because while they are looking for the person they need, someone is looking for them. Even in the confusion, they are mixing and talking with residents who they might not otherwise would have been talking to, so it works out pretty well.
Once the tags are on the right people, they can take a seat. Of course, in the perfect world, they would not be sitting next to their friend who they came to the party with, but that that does happen. As part of my welcome, I tell them that I encouraged talking at this get-together and we take an “oath” together that says that from this day forward that they would not hold a negative thought about a person who asks them their name for the 10th time, and that they would be assured it was safe to ask the person their name if the person that was talking to them knew theirs.
Having the proper table arrangement for this party is important. Remember that most of our residents will talk with the person on their left, right and across the table from them, but will not usually go beyond that due to hearing difficulties. (And think about it, most of us don’t do it either.) Think about the arrangement of the tables and what will work for their chatter, as well as for your mixers.
Because I know that my group will not get up and physically mix, I came up with a few questions that seemed to work as a mixer. I related the “getting to know you” activity to that of speed dating - where you ask a question listen for the answer and move onto the next person. Basically, I asked them to raise their hands if they like to shop, read, go to movies, play bridge, paint, play chess, etc. and about where they lived in the community, and how long they’ve lived at the community. I encouraged them to look around and see who else was like them. I told them that they could find someone new to do what they liked to do at the party and that it was up to them to make the connections. I have also done other activities with them such as, taking the microphone to them to tell the group about themselves; asked them to interview a person in the group that they don't really know, and then introduce them to the group; tell 2 truths and 1 lie and the group determines which is the lie; name bingo (they must go around and find someone that fits the info. on each square (ie: has a dog, likes the color pink) and asked the individuals within the group questions such as if you had a chance to live somewhere else, where would it be? favorite tv show? if you had a chance to work as something else, what would it be, etc Check out my resources for these type of mixers.
In spending time with the group, I did learn that two pairs of people made connections that were new to them. One person learned that her husband worked for the same company as the man she was getting to know. The other learned that they had grown up in the same area as one another. I’m sure that there were more stories that I did not hear.
It was a fun afternoon for the residents who were there 25 plus years all the way to the “newbies” that moved in the past few weeks.