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The up and coming trend for independent senior housing in retirement villages, which offers an alternative for the high-end active adult community, has opened a new world for Michal Shvekey, clinical gerontologist and marketing manager of the "House in Ramat Hasharon."
"Living the kibbutz-life and raising a family for many years, I went back to studying and working to make a change to the traditional living of the elder community and provide them with quality senior living," says Shvekey. "It was an opportunity for me to use my background and experience to develop this new market in Israel and help create and build an innovative, colorful and very trendy living environment for this community."
Today's active adult market is large, has considerable buying power and represents substantial opportunities for builders and developers. Over the past 20 years, retirement homes have sprung up all over the world, and each seems to be trying to outdo the other in the level of luxury, services and amenities offered. The trend has also picked up in Israel. According to the Dun & Bradstreet Israel annual survey of the country's leading senior housing complexes, the number of protected senior housing units in 2006 grew by 8 percent.
One such example of quality senior living in retirement villages is the "House in Ramat Hasharon," the first independent senior housing complex in the area, which opened in March at an investment of NIS 170 million and stretches over nine dunam.
Shvekey proudly and with great passion moved from living the kibbutz life and first raising her own family to being at the forefront of this movement.
"After the army I got married and followed my husband to live in the Ein Gedi Kibbutz," says Shvekey, who grew up in the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. "During the years in the kibbutz in the early 1980s, I was an active member in the community filling in for a variety of positions related to the social and cultural management and organization of the kibbutz and surrounding areas."
Raising her family at the early age of 21, Shvekey took her chances and after 15 years running into her thirties, she decided to go back to studying and commence her career.
"For some time, I had been interested in fashion and design, in particular furniture design," she says. "So, I tried myself at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design."
But Shvekey soon faced up to the fact that starting a fashion career over the age of 30 was not realistic.
"Without a formal education degree, the bad reputation of kibbutz life and being in my thirties, I was realistic about my career prospects and decided to look in a different direction, trying to combine my work experience at the kibbutz while also finding a way to use my creative mindset," says Shvekey.
At the Beit Berl Academic College, the largest teacher training college in the country, Shvekey, at the age of 37 and a mother to three children, started to read for her first degree, a B.Ed. in informal education and social sciences.
Simultaneous to her studies, Shvekey started to work as an administrative assistant to help establish Ahuzat Bayit in Ra'anana, one of Israel's leading and most luxurious sheltered housing projects for the retirement community in the early 1990s.
"The idea in developing the place was to involve the family and offer many diverse and novel community and cultural activities," Shvekey recalls. "For each party interested in living in this novel project, I analyzed what their children were doing and what their interests were in order to offer them and their parents the opportunity to participate in as many diverse and trendy activities such as going to the theater, art classes, salsa dancing and water aerobics."
Ahuzat Bayit is located at a central junction between the affluent cities of Ra'anana and Herzliya, where it has about 300 apartments and also owns and leases an adjacent commercial mall and entertainment center. In 1992, Shvekey was promoted to the position of manager of culture and society.
"The issue of culture was central to my work," says Shvekey. "We launched Dorot, a newspaper for the golden age and established a forum for culture and society to bring together elderly people from a variety of professions such as authors."
At the end of the 1990s, Shvekey left Ahuzat Bayit to read for a full-time Masters Degree in clinical gerontology at the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.
"I allowed myself to become a full-time student at the age of 45 when my children were 31, 28 and 21 years old," says Shvekey. "My children were very proud of me".
Yet, studying among students in their twenties, Shvekey felt very comfortable.
"I am very good at writing and today young people are not very good at it so I helped them and they helped me as 99 percent of the study material was in English, which was very difficult for me in the beginning."
Upon graduation, Shvekey looked for work where she could use her creative streak and combine her writing abilities.
"I looked for a position, which was less in the field of management of senior living communities and more in marketing," she says.
In 2001, Shvekey was recruited as the sales and marketing manager of Beit Neot Afeka, the "flagship" senior residence of the Mishan quality senior living complexes, which is situated in Afeka, one of northern Tel Aviv's most prestigious neighborhoods just east of Ramat Aviv Gimmel. The residence has 175 apartments of one, 1-1/2 and two rooms.
Initially, Shvekey believed she had found the right direction for her career, but she soon became frustrated in the organization and administration of the group.
"Working at Beit Neot Afeka for two years, I realized that I was not made for working in a unionized not-for-profit organization with very dated and set standards of working procedures," says Shvekey.
Mishan was established by the Histadrut Trade Union Movement in 1931 and is owned by the Histadrut's hevrat haovdim
"So, I made it my goal to seek a post in a company, where I could establish something new", says Shvekey.
The timing was in Shvekey's favor, as it was in these years that the global trend of active and modern retirement homes started to pick up in Israel and Shvekey was given the opportunity to be part of a new initiative, the House in Ramat Hasharon.
"As head of marketing and establishing the project from scratch, I was given the opportunity to take control," Shvekey recounts proudly. "From day one of building the project, I worked closely with the architect, we visited senior citizen homes to establish a marketing campaign, which was not based on a certain pattern, in an effort to change the image of elderly living into an innovative, trendy and colorful way of life allowing, for example, future residents to take part in the design of their flat."
The main challenge of the project for Shvekey was to sell the residential units as early as possible - even before they were ready.
"From the beginning I involved all interested parties in social events, creating the feeling of community, trust and commitment."
The Ramat Hasharon project, developed by MagicFuture Ltd. of Gmul Investment Company Ltd., consists of 187 luxury residential units and offers the golden-age community an array of pampering experiences in a spa, restaurant and cafeteria, as well as the opportunity to engage in sports activities using the swimming-pool, gym and health center.
Most of Shvekey's colleagues are around 50 years old and, like her, have already raised their children. They also are connected to their aging parents and are bringing this life experience to the job.
"In my team there are five women" says Shvekey. "Women are very dominant and very good in this field as they are more patient, service-oriented, have the ability to listen and to think out of the box."
For Shvekey, the dynamics are different when women are in management.
"There is less power wrangling and the focus is more on solution and process-building, team management and organization," she says.
Describing her own management style, Shvekey says she believes in team building and the importance of her own personal involvement at all meetings at every level of the organization.
"I take part in management meetings as well as house meetings," says Shvekey. "I guess my secret to success lies in the fact that I am very good at being both a friend and a manager to my workers. I achieve goals not through power games but by creating friendly work relationships and an environment with a lot of humor, in which you can also have fun."
Looking ahead, however, Shvekey is already thinking about realizing her next dream.
"Once this project is up and running, the next challenge is to turn the House in Ramat Hasharon into a chain of trendy retirement living communities across the country."
Married with three adult children
* B.Ed. in Informal Education and Social Sciences, Beit Berl Academic College
* MA in Clinical Gerontology, Ben-Gurion University
* Manager of Culture and Society, Ahuzat Bayit Ra'anana
* Sales and Marketing Manager, Mishan Beit Neot Afeka
* Marketing and Project Manager, House in Ramat Hasharon
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