Cherish at Central Park is a resort-style independent living retirement community in the heart of the West Shore. Micky Fleming, its president and CEO, is committed to making life for her residents the absolute best it can possibly be. It’s what energizes her every day.
She grew up on a cattle ranch in Alberta, a culture that encourages people to work together. She eventually settled in the West Shore back in 1974. Her office at Cherish today overlooks what used to be the Belmont High School property where she went to school.
Micky’s commitment to creating a carefree lifestyle for her resident community is like that of a concerned extended family member caring for parents, relatives or friends. She’s always on the look out for ways to serve her community better. Arguably, the results have created of one of the most successful senior living business models in the country.
It takes a village to raise a child and we say it takes a community to age successfully. That’s what living at Cherish at Central Park is about.
Q: Micky, where do you get your incredible work ethic standards and confidence from?
A: My grandfather was probably the person who influenced me the most. My grandmother influenced me by her actions. But it was my grandfather who influenced me with narratives around things, like “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” and “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life!” Truisms for life! It took me a long time to figure out what those phrases actually meant; but I always appreciated knowing about them and tried to apply them to my life.
Q: What defining moment in your life moved you along your journey to where you are today?
A: There were a lot of epiphany moments in my life, events that caused me to made very difficult but conscious choices early in my life. My home life as a child was rough and I definitely didn’t want any part of that as I got older. So, I left home at 15 so I could have better control and [be more able to] make better decisions for myself. I chose aspirational-type goals, that is, things I wanted to do in my life and eliminate things that I definitely did not want to do in my life. I wanted good friends around me, wanted to create good relationships with people who would respect me as a person. If people I encountered didn’t fit into those expectations, then I just didn’t bother with them. My grandfather always told me, “If you apply yourself, you can do anything you want.” I took that to heart. I always knew I would never be someone that just worked 9 to 5! I survived [in a wide variety of jobs] because I discovered that I love challenges. Challenges are what makes life interesting for me. Whether it’s for fun, sport, business, or whether it’s doing things to make the world a better place, I’m really happiest when I’m accomplishing things and problem solving. It’s how I function; it’s part of my make up, of who I am and what I like to do.
Q: I understand that Cherish is a family affair. How do you find working with family in this business?
A: We all work very well together and get along really well. My sister, an accountant, lives 3 doors away from me. My husband, as Chef, offers a variety of delightful homemade dishes prepared with love. All of us have the same sort of aspirations and values so it makes it easy to work together. We’re fortunate that way.
Q: What advice would you give to seniors considering a move to an independent lifestyle residence like Cherish?
A: The first consideration is to be clear about what’s important for them and then look for a place that has those things—because obviously not everyone wants or needs the same things. For example, we’re an informal community; lots of hugs and casual socializing. But that’s not an environment that suits everybody. Some people may prefer a place with a more formal setting, where residents are “Mr. or Mrs. Jones” and that’s just how it is. Ideally, if it’s possible, I tell everyone who comes here to spend a couple of nights in a few places [that they are interested in] and ask a lot of questions about the things that matter to them. Because once you settle into a place, it can be difficult to make alternate arrangements. It’s a lot of effort. But things are changing. People are starting to relocate [if they are not satisfied], which was not as common in the past. More people are willing to vote with their feet to get what they want.
Q: How does Cherish address your residents’ personal care needs as they become less able to stay independent on their own?
A: The emphasis for us is on building a community where residents have access to an exceptional variety of resources and services as their lifestyle needs change. The model we use is called ‘cluster care’. This approach differs from assisted living centres that provide home support services in house. With evolving care, our residents’ family selects a community health worker to provide scheduled home support services to attend to their mom or dad’s increasing personal care needs. Our personal care providers operate independent of our centre. They come in each day and attend to those residents who need a bit more attention. That way, our residents can age in place together with all the supports they need. Cherish is their home. Care providers attend to their personal and medical needs. As someone who had never been involved in the senior care industry, I learned a lot about how seniors would prefer to live by speaking to over 400 seniors and getting them actively involved in the design of our building. These people have helped us define how our Cherish should work. By the way, Cherish will be celebrating its second anniversary this month. We opened for our first residents at the end of 2017.
Q: Congratulations! What is your next challenge?
A: I’d like to work on more spa lifestyle amenities for our residents. I would also like to create a line of organic skin care products. There’s so much to learn about the process of aging. I would like to learn more about the aging process, to find things that will make a positive difference in the lives of our residents. The key is listening to your residents. Their stories of our industry sadden me. I would love to change our industry and we are, by example.
Q: Another time? Another life?
A: I’ve been doing a lot of genealogy for the past 5 years and have come to believe that 80% of who we are is built deep in our bones. I do believe that. For example, I was crazy about shoes, even at an early age. All I wanted when I was about 5 or 6 was red patent leather shoes. By the time I got to high school, I had over 200 pairs of shoes. Even worked in a retail shoe store for a time. As I worked my way through the genealogy for my family, I discovered that the small town my family was from was actually known for its shoes and shoe making. So maybe, another time, another life, I could have been in the shoe business! Who knows!