In recent years, Aldersgate Continuing Care Retirement Community has earned a reputation as one of the region’s most LGBTQ-inclusive institutions of its kind. This is due in large part to the work of Director of Mission Advancement Erin Barbee, whose commitment to education and equality helped propel Aldersgate towards a prestigious national certification in services for LGBTQ elders. Drawing inspiration from her closest family, including her mothers and wife, she’s moved beyond even that vital mission to take part in a multitude of endeavors benefitting her Charlotte neighbors. Barbee speaks to qnotes about her personal and professional missions, the nature (and nearly mind-boggling scale) of her community involvement, and her excitement about what comes next.
How long have you lived in Charlotte? If you’re not a native of the area, where did you grow up?
34 years. I am a native Charlottean!
How long have you worked at Aldersgate? Have you always held the position you do today?
I have worked at Aldersgate for a year and a half. Yes I have always held this position.
Your professional title is director of mission advancement. What exactly does “mission advancement” entail?
I am responsible for leading our efforts with community engagement and the creation of strategic partnerships for the organization.
Aldersgate is also home to the Asbury Health and Rehabilitation Center. How would you describe the center’s purpose? What makes it distinct from the wider Aldersgate community?
Asbury Health and Rehabilitation Center is a state-of-the-art center that provides both skilled nursing (long-term care) and rehabilitation (short-term care). The center provides person-centered care — a major shift from institutional care. Residents live in private suites in “neighborhoods” with beautiful common areas (kitchens, gathering spaces and outdoor patios) and the schedules for access to meals and snacks aren’t rigid. It’s all about personalized care with dignity.
For the greater community, people can come here for rehab after a surgical procedure. We also offer onsite dialysis. Through a continuing partnership with Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, Asbury offers expanded hospice beds and support.
Did you join Aldersgate with the goal of expanding LGBTQ inclusivity, or was this a mission you took on later?
I joined Aldersgate because of the culture of inclusivity. I belonged and it felt like family. The efforts of being inclusive of all people were well underway before I joined. Now I am a part of that mission.
How did you come to believe in the need for reform in the treatment of LGBTQ elders? What additional challenges have LGBTQ individuals historically faced in aging?
This answer is simple… my moms. I have two loving and beautiful mothers and I am watching them age. I am concerned for their future and my own. Historically older adults have had to choose between receiving care and being who they are in the LGBTQ community. Many have gone back into the closet to live in a long-term care setting. At Aldersgate we don’t want anyone to have to choose between who they are and care they need. We want every elder to feel loved, valued and cared for.
Aldersgate made headlines last year — in qnotes and elsewhere — when it was awarded SAGECare platinum status. What is SAGE certification? What requirements did you have to meet to obtain it, and how difficult was that to achieve?
SAGECare [is] the training and consulting division of New York-based SAGE (Services & Advocacy for LGBTQ elders). Our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Veronica Calderon, in partnership with SAGE national created a training plan that was rolled out to all of our 500+ team members. It took six months to have every team member trained! While this wasn’t an easy effort, it was an incredible journey. To date, 95 percent of the Aldersgate staff has completed the SAGE training. Additionally, Aldersgate at Home, the community’s in-home caregiving service, has also received platinum status with 100 percent participation.
It was not easy, but our organization was fully committed. The difference between our requirements by SAGE and our approach was intentionality. We did all of our workshops in person — we had over 45 workshops in 2 months, to get to as many of our teammates as possible. We also had the same energy around our residents; we had about 10 workshops last year around SAGECare and understanding the needs LGBTQ elders.
Aldersgate reports that its decisions are guided in part by a strategic planning team, one-third of whose members are Aldersgate residents. How does that team operate? What kinds of issues does it address, and what is its role in the community?
Yes, our strategic plan has been in place since 2012 and from the beginning, our residents have had a voice that is valued. This team works collaboratively to help shape the future of Aldersgate in every area. We address operations, infrastructure, governance, future growth opportunities, being an employer of choice and community engagement.
How does the Aldersgate of today compare with the community as you found it your first day on the job?
On my first day I learned about the diversity and inclusion journey the Aldersgate team members and residents were on. From that day forward intention became action. In under a year and a half we have achieved SAGE certification, changed policies and procedures to reflect an inclusive culture and created relationships with unlikely partners across lines of difference. Aldersgate now has a reputation of being cutting edge, inclusive and dedicated to the work. This is incredible for such a short period of time!
Along with your position at Aldersgate, you’re an active member of the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce. How would you describe your involvement there?
I am the director of public relations, policy and advocacy. Essentially, I work with our board to create the messaging of our chamber. I also lead our efforts in advocating for our LGBT business owners and members of the business community to have their voices heard.
Have you taken part in any programs or initiatives related to the LGBTQ community outside of work? Are you involved in any other community, activist or charitable endeavors?
Yes, I am a member of the HRC NC steering committee. I am extremely passionate about being involved in community. Currently, I am the co-chair of CharlotteEAST that advocates for neighbors and businesses in East Charlotte. I am a member of the Habitat for Humanity Neighborhood Revitalization committee, on the Leading on Opportunity Council, Executive Committee of the Simmons YMCA, the Charlotte Museum of History board of trustees, Queen City Unity board member and a board member of USIAC.
What do you consider your greatest victory, professionally or otherwise?
My greatest professional victory was joining Aldersgate. I am in the midst of witnessing and being a part of history in the making. We are leading the pack in NC when it comes to being inclusive of all elders.
If you don’t mind the more personal inquiry, what does your home life look like at the moment? Is there someone you see after work every evening — a partner, a nosy neighbor, a pet walrus?
I love this question because I get to talk about my wife. Without her I would not be able to achieve success at work or in the community. She is my foundation and my biggest cheerleader. We come home to our precious dog Dapper!
And finally, what do you hope to achieve next?
In 2019 in the city I hope to partner with members of the LGBTQ community and businesses to advocate for LGBTQ owned businesses to be recognized as a designation along with women and minority owned businesses. Professionally, I hope to continue to elevate the voices of seniors in a city that focuses more on millennials. Personally, I hope to never let the newlywed feeling go away and to travel the world with my wife!