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Live Oak Institute

  Live Oak Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, established in 1981 to develop communities that help all elders, even those who are the most isolated and disempowered, learn, grow, develop and shape their future.

Live Oak Institute currently has three core projects:

  • The Pleasure of Your Company® Project to bring meaning and relationship to nursing home residents throughout America who are most at risk for social isolation.
  • The Elders’ Guild is piloting the first chapter in what is expected to become a national chapter based organization. With the motto, Conscious Aging for the Greater Good, the Elders’ Guild is focusing on the generation that is now emerging into its elderhood. (Live Oak Institute director, Barry Barkan, was awarded a prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for leading social entrepreneurs around the world, to develop the concept for the Elders’ Guild.)
  • A foundation-funded pilot project to develop a demonstration of Live Oak’s Regenerative Community Culture in a continuing care retirement community in Jerusalem, Israel.

Transforming Nursing Homes

Underlying all these projects has been the commitment to create a new role for elders, promote healing communities and empower elders wherever they live. From the start it has been the purpose of Live Oak to transform nursing homes from institutions to person-centered communities.

Motivated by the frustrating experience of his grandmother’s life in a 1960s nursing home, Barry Barkan created the first Live Oak Project in 1977 in the old Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland, CA. He and his first partner worked hands-on with nursing home residents to develop the Regenerative Community culture. The Regenerative Community demonstrates the healing potential that is unleashed when social isolation is bridged and empowering community is formed. From the start the project has challenged negative stereotypes of aging, even among the most frail and isolated people, and focused on expanding their potential physically, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually and socially.

Live Oak’s Impact on National Policy

In 1979, a foundation-funded team from the University of Southern California Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center evaluated the Live Oak Project at the Oakland Jewish home. The team wrote in its final report:

“...It is our feeling that Live Oak could alter conceptions about what is possible in old age and thereby ultimately alter the reality of aging itself. The oft-expressed slogan of the Live Oak founders that they are out to ‘revolutionize’ old age in America may not be so far-fetched.”

In the early 1980’s, Barry Barkan delivered a paper, The Live Oak Regenerative Community: Reconnecting Culture in Long Term Care, which was reprinted as the cover article in Aging Magazine, published by the U.S. Department of Aging. It articulated a new vision of quality of life for long term care residents that influenced the landmark Federal OBRA nursing home reform legislation of 1987. It also focused for the first time on transformation of the organizational culture as the driving force for systems change within the nursing home.

Real Solution for a Real Problem

When in the mid-eighties the Institute needed a home to use as an R&D site to demonstrate how a whole home could be organized around an elder-centered model, Live Oak Institute helped launch the former Live Oak Living Center, a combined skilled nursing and assisted living home. The home had the dual purpose of providing a meaningful and empowering quality of life for residents and staff and research and development for the implementation of a person-centered culture.

The Pleasure of Your Company was created “on the floor” of the nursing home by the Live Oak Institute team with input from staff on all levels, residents, volunteers and family members. The Live Oak R&D team initially came together to solve the daunting challenge of how to get and keep volunteers and staff members involved in providing meaningful activities for the most isolated residents. In tackling the problem, it became clear to the development team that a comprehensive system was needed to engage the whole home in meeting the one-to-one programming needs of residents. This resulted in the creation of The Pleasure of Your Company.

In 2010, the Institute was funded by the Hulda and Maurice Rothschild Foundation for The Pleasure of Your Company Project to make the program widely available to nursing homes throughout the country. The creation of this website is part of that effort.