How many employers would hire a high school senior to cut grass one summer, help pay for his college education and then give him the top computer job in the company three years later?
Fellowship Community did just that for 23-year-old David Sutter of Bethlehem. The Christ-centered retirement community in Whitehall Township took a chance on the technologically inclined young man, promoting him to data network analyst. For that, Sutter said, he is forever grateful.
"I love coming in every day," Sutter said of his job helping staff and residents fix their computer problems 24/7. "No place is perfect, but one of the greatest things about working here is knowing that I'm going to have a good day just by coming to work. The atmosphere is positive."
Fellowship, according to Sutter and others who work there, is an extraordinary place for some 360 older adults to live independently or with help and for the 275 employees. The community was ranked second among midsize employers in the Top Workplaces survey conducted by WorkplaceDynamics.
Founded by Bible Fellowship Church in 1988, the nonprofit retirement community continues a mission of helping the aged that started in 1908, when the church provided homes for elderly women on a farm in Center Valley.
Today, it is a campus of modern, single-story townhouses known as Fellowship Courts; personal care and memory support units at Fellowship Terrace; and short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing care at the five-star-Medicare and Medicaid-rated Fellowship Manor.
Nurse Cheryl Mengel, who was recently promoted to administrator of the personal care home, said Fellowship Community compares favorably with the other nursing homes and hospitals where she has worked. All provide good pay and benefits, but the turnover was higher at her previous workplaces.
"Executives here care about residents and employees," she said, crediting religious roots and work ethics that begin at the top.
President and CEO Robert Zentz is a nurse and interviews every potential new hire. He also walks the floors and makes rounds, showing interest in how everyone is treated, Mengel said. Residents receive compassion and respect and are treated to extras such as church services, a farmers market, country fair, shopping trips and parties. Employees are treated to free food every day during nursing home week in May, a summer picnic and Christmas party, and can earn up to four hours of paid leave every three months of working with perfect attendance.
Seeing how her managers had treated employees as well as the elderly adults who live at Fellowship made Mengel want to do the same when she came to supervise staff.
"I see it now as my new role," she said. "I want to reach out to others, show them I care by saying 'thank you' for pitching in and helping."
Her door is always open, she said, and at orientation she emphasizes the Fellowship values of Scripture, leadership, quality of care and looking at the whole person.
"For people who come here, this is often their last home," Mengel said. "We want to give them the best place in which to live ... .I tell my staff that if they touch one person, they are doing something important."
To maintain its tax-free, nonprofit status, Fellowship Community provides benevolent care to residents who cannot afford the mid-to-high-end rates. Most, however, are private pay patients and residents whose payments cover the cost of staff, services, food and equipment, Mengel said.
In its broader community, Fellowship's employees volunteer each week to deliver Meals on Wheels food to residents of Whitehall and Catasauqua. Community groups such as Cetronia Ambulance Corps, Whitehall Chamber of Commerce and Whitehall Lions Club use Fellowship's facilities for meetings and other gatherings.
Fellowship Community is doing well enough financially that it is adding more personal-care homes and townhouses to its mix along with a larger community room. The organization hired 65 employees in the last year, according to corporate spokeswoman Pam Lackman, and will likely need to hire more in the coming year to fill vacancies and new positions.
Ann Wlazelek is a freelance writer.
Sector: Senior living