Carol Lashnits looks back ... and ahead
Last week Carol Lashnits held the reins of Island Elderly Housing (IEH) for the last time after 30 years as the only director IEH has ever had. As she prepared to turn the job over to Ann Wallace, Ms. Lashnits spoke candidly with The Times about IEH's accomplishments and about future needs for the Vineyard's senior citizens at all economic levels. She also talked a bit about her own plans for the future, still indefinite in detail but clear in her personal commitment and sense of purpose.
Meeting the need
In 1974, Ms. Lashnits was working for Elder Services of the Cape and the Islands. A man named Steve Claggett called from the then-brand-new Martha's Vineyard Commission, asking whether she thought there was a need for subsidized housing for low-income senior citizens on Martha's Vineyard. She didn't know the answer, but she told Mr. Claggett, "I'll find out."
Working through the Island Councils on Aging - people like Margaret Love, Marguerite Bergstrom, Willis Gifford, Fred Ferro, and Margaret O'Neill - Elder Services surveyed every senior on the Island and found that there was indeed a very large need. Even in the 1970s, costs on the Vineyard were escalating beyond the means of people who relied on social security to make ends meet, even if they owned their homes. To begin to meet this crisis, IEH was founded in 1976 by Ms. Lashnits, Ms. Love, and Ms. Bergstrom. In 1977 IEH built its first project, 40 units at Hillside Village, for $2 million, paid for with Federal Housing Authority (Rural Division) funds on land provided at a bargain price by Mr. Ferro.
Carol Lashnits, left, in a photo taken some years ago, appears with Marguerite Bergstrom, her late partner in IEH efforts to build elder housing. MV Times file photo
Today, IEH manages 165 units at Hillside Village, Woodside Village, Love House, and Aidylberg. Twelve separate projects have been built and rents subsidized with financing from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Ms Lashnits explains that IEH has found a small but fruitful niche in HUD funding opportunities for Massachusetts, because the Vineyard, Nantucket, and a small area in western Massachusetts are the only places in the state classified as "non-metropolitan." Thus IEH has had very little competition for millions of dollars of non-metropolitan money. The only catch is that HUD has required that each new grant over the years be made to a separate corporation, and managing 12 corporations has been a headache for Ms. Lashnits and IEH. She estimates that duplication in paperwork, payrolls, and audits costs IEH about $100,000 extra every year.
Ms. Lashnits told The Times that IEH has all but met the needs for low-income elderly housing on Martha's Vineyard. "We're finding that there isn't a need [for more units]," she said. "According to our property manager, we have a list of 45 to 50 applicants, but there are people that are on there saying, 'I don't want to move in for two or three years.' So if somebody applied today, they might get in in a month or two, and that's never ever been the case before, when we had waiting lists of 100 or more."
The need for continuing care
However, Ms. Lashnits pointed out that there is and always has been a need for more continuing care for seniors of means. She pointed to Margaret Love (one of the founders of IEH), who moved to a continuing care retirement facility off-Island. "I thought it was a crime that Margaret Love, who had done so much for this community and gotten this housing built and gotten Havenside built, had to leave because the care wasn't good enough," Ms. Lashnits said. "Havenside does their best, but it is so small."
While IEH residents do receive some services, what is available is limited, and some IEH residents (if they don't die or move to Windemere) have left the Island to find more complete assisted living.
Asked about Vineyard Village, a proposed continuing care retirement community on the model of Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Ms. Lashnits was uncertain. "I don't know whether they can do that Beacon Hill thing here. My sense is that the whole Island is a community in itself." She said that a wide variety of services for seniors might be found Island-wide. However, she agreed that people like Margaret Love need (and can afford) a facility where they can start off living independently and then get higher levels of care as they become more infirm.
The proponents of Vineyard Village envisage a campus housing seniors from independent living to assisted living to nursing care, with 100 residential units and 40 staff units. Plans are still in very early stages.
The future for Carol Lashnits
In the announcement of her retirement, Ms. Lashnits called her work at IEH a ministry. She did not use the word "ministry" as a metaphor. She holds a Masters in Divinity degree from the Andover-Newton Theological School and has for many years felt that there is a religious purpose in her life and work. Now that sufficient low-income elderly housing has been created (at least for the present), that ministry has been completed, and it is time to look for a new one.
Though she has demonstrably excelled at managing - solving the federal funding bureaucracy and juggling the paperwork of 12 different IEH corporations - that work has seemed to her only the means to the ends, not interesting in itself.
Ms. Lashnits told The Times that the aspects of IEH which gave her the most pleasure were the ones most closely connected with her Andover-Newton training, such as pastoral counseling or officiating at memorial services for IEH residents. She has also been a volunteer chaplain at the hospital and volunteered with Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, where she found her work with the dying to be a privilege and a gift.
When she completed her degree at Andover-Newton, she did not become ordained, and so she will not become the pastor of a church, but a chaplaincy somewhere, perhaps in a retirement community or a hospice, is a possibility. She does not even yet know where she will settle, perhaps on the Vineyard, perhaps in San Francisco, where her daughter lives, or perhaps somewhere where the right opportunity finds her. For the next three or four months, she will relax here on the Vineyard and gather her thoughts. She told The Times that she is looking forward to being a vacationer and a tourist, perhaps hanging out on a beach or finding where an unfamiliar road goes.
Ann Wallace of Chilmark will take over this week as interim director of IEH. Ms. Wallace, a member of the IEH board for 10 years, resigned last month in order to take the interim position. The daughter of minister Jack Wallace, until recently she was the director of Women's Support Services at Martha's Vineyard Community Services, a position she held for 15 years.