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Village Shalom CEO Addresses Gathering At White House

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Matthew Lewis, President and CEO of Village Shalom, offered the opening presentation at the recent Senior Health Care Meeting of the Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS) at the White House. Lewis was invited to the Washington, DC, gathering by Don Shulman, President and CEO of AJAS, to speak about the resilience of Village Shalom and the Kansas City Jewish community following the tragic events of April 13.

Matt Lewis at the podium before the AJAS meeting.

That Sunday afternoon, a lone gunman targeted two Jewish facilities in the Kansas City area, killing Dr. William Corporon and his grandson Reat Underwood at the Jewish Community Center, and Terri LaManno, daughter of a resident, at nearby Village Shalom. In the weeks following those horrific events, shock, grief and a sense of “new reality” have continued to reverberate throughout the community. Lewis shared his perspective with the AJAS group on how Village Shalom has maintained its equilibrium in the aftermath.

“One of the most important things we’ve learned is that much of our strength has emanated from a wide circle of friends,” Lewis told the gathering. “Village Shalom has been very intentional in forging strong alliances with our Kansas City community, both Jewish and secular. Internally, we have been just as intentional in building authentic partnerships with our staff – individually and collectively.”

These strong ties were crucial “in the hours, days and weeks following the shooting,” Matt noted. “We are forever changed. And more than ever, we are focused on our core purpose.”

More than 40 members of AJAS, representing Jewish-sponsored senior-care communities from across the country, attended the gathering to discuss a number of important initiatives and issues relevant to elder care. They responded to Lewis’s account of Village Shalom’s ordeal with expressions of empathy and support.

“I think everyone was very moved by Matt’s comments,” said Carol Silver Elliott, AJAS Chairman of the Board and President/CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Certainly the mood in the room was somber, and I know that all of us were thinking that this is something that could happen to any of us, and that the response of the Village Shalom staff was exemplary.” 

Lewis was touched and encouraged by the experience at the White House. “I was overwhelmed with the support my colleagues showed. Our peer Jewish facilities are all too familiar with anti-Semitism and the risks Jewish organizations face. They appreciate what we’re going through.”

So did the Administration officials attending the meeting, Lewis noted. “They were also very supportive of Village Shalom, and personally expressed their condolences and concern during the brief opportunities we had for conversation.”

Administration officials in attendance were: Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to The First Lady of the United States; Carole Johnson, White House Domestic Policy Council - Health Team; Aviva Sufian – Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services; Jonathan Greenblatt – Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the United States Domestic Policy Council; Rory Brosius, Joining Forces – Office of the First Lady; Dr. Lynne Johnson, Health Insurance Specialist, Division of Partnership Development, Center for Beneficiary Choices, Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services.

“I appreciated attending the AJAS meeting in this auspicious setting and hearing the presentations by leaders of our peer organizations on a number of important topics,” Lewis remarked. “It was a good reminder of the excellence and innovation for which AJAS is known – not just for Jewish-sponsored facilities, but throughout the field of elder care.”

Following the meeting, AJAS President and CEO Don Shulman sent an email to all attendees expressing thanks for their participation, and “to Matt Lewis for coming to deliver an inspiring and emotional message. I know I speak for the entire Association as we wish Matt, his residents and team members our very best over the weeks and months of healing ahead.”

The meeting was the ninth annual White House gathering for AJAS, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. “Every opportunity we have to connect with our elected and appointed officials is an important one,” said AJAS Chairman Elliott. “Having this kind of access to decision makers and influential members of the government is not easy to achieve, and it matters for both AJAS and, even more so, for our member organizations.”