Sherrill Moore visits a tree she donated about six months ago at Kivel Campus of Care's assisted-living facility.
Sherrill Moore visits a tree she donated about six months ago at Kivel Campus of Care’s assisted-living facility.

After noticing an empty spot in the yard outside Kivel Campus of Care’s dining area, Kivel resident Sherrill Moore decided the area needed a tree. So she donated a Chinese Pistache sapling. “To me, a tree is life,” she said, and she looks at it every day.

When the campus’ care center, a skilled nursing facility, closed in April 2008, the atmosphere at Kivel felt rather somber. But today, the residents living in the assisted- and independent-living apartments, and the staff, are optimistic about the institution’s future. And, as the new tree flourishes, they are anticipating Kivel’s continued growth.

One example is a grant that Kivel recently received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), through the Assisted Housing Green Retrofit Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. An engineer recently evaluated the site, and Kivel expects to receive recommendations within 60 days.

Expected renovations of the building housing the independent apartments, which is more than 25 years old, will include making it more energy-efficient and updating the heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as modernizing its appearance, said Ira Shulman, Kivel CEO for the past nine years and, as of last month, also its board president. In addition, Kivel will explore installing solar panels to reduce costs, he said.

After the engineer’s proposed changes are approved, Kivel has one year to complete the project, which he anticipates will cost $1.5 million to $2 million.

Kivel recently applied for another HUD grant, to develop a memory-care unit for patients with early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in its assisted-living center. The plan would involve converting 15 independent apartments into a memory-care unit, which would have its own dining room and activity room. Currently, Kivel has 30 assisted-living apartments and 220 independent-living apartments, Shulman said.

“It’s home,” said Lillian Mayer, who has lived at the Phoenix facility for nearly two years and who worked as a registered nurse at Kivel’s nursing home in 1973.

“You can never be bored here,” Moore added, naming activities she enjoys: current events, computers, meetings. She also leads a quilting program and hopes to quilt blankets for local firefighters to give to children they assist, a project she was active with in Miami.

Gertrude Bessellman, who moved to Kivel from New York three years ago to be close to her daughter who now lives in Sun City West, enjoys arts and crafts and the book club. One reason she chose Kivel is that it operates under Jewish community auspices, offering kosher food and Jewish programming. She attends both Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, led each week by Rabbi Martin Scharf.

Kivel residents also can play on the Nintendo Wii; Crystal Tang, director of therapeutic recreation, describes the Wii bowling league, whose players wear matching shirts.

As Jewish News talked with the three Kivel residents, Moore signed onto the Internet at a nearby computer to show a photo of her new grandson posted on Facebook. “He’s my little pumpkin,” she exclaimed proudly of the baby sleeping in his pumpkin costume.

The women appreciate other services Kivel offers: There’s an on-site eye and dental clinic, beauty parlor, mini-mart and bank (Chase Bank operates an on-site location on Wednesdays). This year, a cut in allocations from the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, of which Kivel is a constituent agency, meant Kivel lost funds for the eye and dental clinic, but the services never stopped, thanks to volunteers, donations and financial assistance from the Kivel Auxiliary, an organization that raises money to enhance the quality of life for residents.

In addition to the on-site activities, Kivel takes residents on outings, such as shopping trips and visits to restaurants and museums. These trips are funded through the Kivel Auxiliary and donations, including Arizona’s Working Poor Tax Credit.

Community members also regularly visit Kivel, which its residents enjoy. Students from Monte Vista School visit monthly, and Jess Schwartz Jewish Community Day School and Pardes Jewish Day School students and groups such as the federation’s Young Jewish Phoenix participate in programs with the seniors. Teens from the Jewish Community Foundation’s teen philanthropy program, B’nai Tzedek, threw a prom for the seniors in May, and the Israel Scouts, a singing and dancing troupe from Israel, also perform there when they visit the Valley each year.

Across the parking lot from all the activity are reminders of the challenges Kivel has faced in the past few years; it’s difficult to ignore the boarded-up buildings that once housed the Kivel Care Center. The closure was forced by a combination of increased operating costs and decreased philanthropic support, said its leaders at the time.

Ascend Health Corp. purchased the buildings, which are being rebuilt and renovated into a behavioral-health hospital.

What was once the Smith Pavilion, with a main lobby where residents would watch TV and visit with guests and greyhounds – the latter part of a pet-therapy program – is now gutted, although chandeliers still hang from the ceiling. A bench is flipped over near the entry, which still has flowers painted on its windows. This building will be torn down to make way for offices for Ascend’s behavioral-health hospital, Shulman said.

A second building, which housed the facility’s dining hall, ice cream parlor, care center and activity center, will be renovated into the new hospital.

The demolition may seem dismal, but the residents say they are excited about the changes. “It’s entertainment,” Moore said.

“The staff and the caregivers are just wonderful,” Mayer added. “I can say that with sincerity.”

Kivel’s new board is ready to “move Kivel forward,” Shulman said. Kivel plans on keeping its Phoenix location but has not abandoned plans to build an additional campus in North Scotts-dale with assisted- and independent-living facilities, which Shulman calls the “new direction in nursing homes.”

Current board members are Shulman; Gail Chase, treasurer; Richard Marmor, secretary; S.W. Petersen, past-president; Mark Searles, vice president; Debbie Waitkus, vice president; and a representative from the Kivel Auxiliary. Shulman expressed appreciation for the work of the previous board and said he is looking for additional board members. (Call 602-443-8020).

“We look forward to community input and support as we develop plans for a future Kivel,” Shulman said. “An additional location to provide an appropriate living opportunity for our Jewish seniors is a necessity, not an option.”

This article first appeared in the Nov. 20, 2009 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.