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Aging in Place in Ponchatoula

Westminster Place is such a quiet apartment complex in Ponchatoula that many people do not know it exists.

But to the people who live there, they are “residents” and not “tenants” and its 44 units are “home” and not “apartments”.

Thanks to Tangipahoa Parish Library Archives, Rev. Dr. James Anderson’s “History of Westminster” tells the story of the dream for Senior housing that began in 1980 and led to Groundbreaking in 1985 and Ribbon Cutting in 1986.

The years between were filled with frequent meetings locally, across the state and nationally in an effort to follow all guidelines and meet all regulations set by Federal, State, and Local governments as well as the sponsoring Presbyterian Churches of America.

With Westminster Tower already in place in Kenner, the Louisiana Presbytery saw the need to minister to older Seniors and the handicapped in this area and efforts were nonstop by the Board led by President Anderson, Vice-President Audrey Gabriel and other prominent members of the community.

Early plans for a nursing facility met with disfavor and changed to “Aging in Place” – housing for people 62 and over and the handicapped, each capable of independent living. Months stretched into years of researching and negotiating over sufficient acreage, construction bids, meeting the latest codes and arranging funding while the dedicated board kept the faith.

Local churches, civic organizations, businesses and individuals chipped in and finally, all working together at the sacrifice of time, energy and money, Westminster Place came to be.

In basics, it is a somewhat typical private quiet apartment complex but it offers far more to those who wish to participate.

The office building houses a private coin laundry, a salon with reduced rates for residents but open to the public and a community conference area with a small kitchen available to visitors serving hot food for special occasions.

Volunteers offer games and prizes and area supermarkets and food businesses donate produce, vegetables, fruits, bread, pastries, and pizzas.

A lawn service “manicures” the grounds weekly and the only outside yard work is if residents choose to have plants in their own wood-fence enclosed patios.

Mailboxes are centrally located and, thanks to the Council on Aging and the City Administration, parish and city buses make regular and pre-arranged stops, giving transportation to those without vehicles.

Each unit has plenty of storage, a galley kitchen, living room, bedroom and full bath with special side-entry tubs for showering.

Safety and security rank high with Neighborhood Watch, fences, brightly lighted grounds at night and frequent police patrols.

Emergency cords stretch to the floor. One pull and a security monitoring company immediately attempts to call the resident while dispatching emergency help.

Because most residents “stay”, the waiting list is long and it can take a couple of years to get to the top. Breaking the record at the longest stay is the first resident who stayed for 30 years but has now gone to live with a daughter and celebrating her 103rd birthday!

Once an applicant’s name reaches the top, there follows a thorough background check in every area of one’s life. As for rent, some units are regular rent, but most are subsidized based on prospective resident’s income.

Manager LaTasha Pitts Banks brings a deep sense of caring and compassion along with her education and experience in health care and business management – a perfect fit as she wants residents to age in place knowing they are “home”.

A native of Amite, a product of Independence High School, LSU, and SLU, she also earned national certification as a phlebotomist and medical technician, working from Pediatric to Adult Day Care before becoming a property manager in Greensburg and coming to Westminster.

She stays updated on the latest rules and regulations and laws through such annual training as Rental Rural Housing Association and National Church Residences on-line or at regional seminars and attending Fair Housing National Conferences.

In addition to a monthly newsletter keeping everyone informed, Ms. Banks has an open-door policy to residents even as she utilizes community resources such as Quad Area and Homeland Security to bring helpful hints for safer healthier living. Some agencies offer free aids, discounted services or help with utilities.

“If I need anything, all I have to do is call Mayor Bob Zabbia or Rhonda Sheridan at City Hall and they’re here or it’s done,” she says. “Police Chief Bry Layrisson looks out for residents and even cooks an annual meal for us. We maintain good relationships with them and with contractors, vendors and residents’ family members.”

Working along with Ms. Banks is Rev. David Williams who, while part-time, does everything from simply changing a light bulb for a resident to general maintenance in repairs, painting, and installations, picking up and delivering Our Daily Bread groceries and other items donated by the community.

To report a needed repair, a resident simply calls a national 800 number and a work order is sent immediately to the office here for Rev. Williams to get started or Ms. Banks to make plans with a contractor.

At Westminster Place, a resident can choose to participate in everything from a Bible study, a learning session to entertainment and games – or stay inside and participate in nothing.

After all, it is home!

If you’d like to donate gifts, your time, items for the upcoming yard sale fund-raiser or create a special event, contact LaTasha Banks at [email protected] or 985-386-4819.

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