Embracing Community Through COVID-19

From the beginning, South Franklin Circle in Chagrin Falls has felt like home to Lillian Gattozzi. The retired registered nurse, 85, had grown up in nearby Bainbridge; after her husband passed away, she made her home in South Russell for 20 years.

So when the time arrived to begin a new chapter, Lillian knew where she wanted to be: She moved into her South Franklin Circle apartment in June 2019.

The need for community was a major impetus. “I thought, if I stay in my home, I will be all by myself,” Lillian says. “I often thought about how lonesome I would be. But when I got here, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. I felt safe here; I felt, ‘This is my home.’”

Lillian embraced her bustling new community with open arms, relishing the many activities: “We had cocktail parties, Halloween parties, exercise programs, card groups … I joined a pinochle group – I had never played pinochle before, but it was a lot of fun! – because that’s how you meet people!”

All that changed, however, with the arrival of COVID-19.

“Everything stopped,” recalls Lillian, as strict pandemic protocols were put in place. The dining room was closed, the cocktail gatherings ended, and even her beloved swimming pool was temporarily off limits.

Yet the pause proved remarkably refreshing. “The good thing was, we still had our community,” says Lillian. “We went for walks, we talked outdoors, and I was able to meet people I might never have seen otherwise. They are all lovely people, and it made me realize just how lucky I am to be here.”

The warm, caring staff was like icing on the cake. “There was never a cross word, never a complaint – and it’s not easy dealing with a bunch of crabby old people stuck in their apartments! But we were treated royally. I can’t even say how comforting it was.”

Equally reassuring to this medical professional were the pandemic protocols Judson put into place. “The guidelines have been very strict: taking temperatures, requiring masks … As a retired nurse, I can be pretty critical of medical staff, but they were tops. Everything they’ve done was done right.”

Today, Lillian says she can’t imagine a better place to be than South Franklin Circle.

“I am a happier person for being here,” she says. “There is no ‘good side’ to COVID, really, but if there were one, this is it: We have really had the chance to focus on each other as people. It’s very helpful to grow old with people who are also growing old. You feel like you are part of the world, and that you are important.”

“You can make some really good friends here,” she adds. “And that makes you stronger.”

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