Suites at Station Exchange in Richmond Hill is home to 33 senior residents.
It is filled with beautiful décor and personal touches all around. Photographs that capture the memories of who the residents once were line tables and are sprinkled throughout the building.
Personal touches like this that set Rich DeLong, the executive director of the Suites, apart.
For DeLong, isn’t just about running a tight ship, it’s about meeting people’s needs. It’s about finding a way to give them purpose and a high quality of life. From the nail salon to the stocked pond, the Suites is a reflection of one man’s dream to make assisted living what it is meant to be.
As a young man, DeLong would have never guessed he would end up in senior living. With a plan of pursuing education and coaching, he had no idea how much his upbringing had made an imprint on his life. It wasn’t until reflecting back that he realized just how much his parents and grandparents — and the loss of his father at age 35 — gave him the passion for what he does now.
After receiving his degree from the University of South Florida in health and physical education he was equipped to teach kindergarten through grade. DeLong has taught ages 2 and old and coached high school football. Later, he pursued a master’s in health and physical education and sports management at Georgia Southwestern College. His teaching profession started in West Palm Beach, Florida, and led him to a career directing a small recreation department in Americus, where he and his family lived for 11 years.
After teaching and looking to make a broader impact, he developed a desire to help the elderly. DeLong began developing a relationship with Magnolia Manor’s corporate office in Americus. He developed programs within the recreational department that not only appealed to the elderly, but appealed to the company as well. In 2000, DeLong took a position with Magnolia Manor, and this is where his professional career in senior living began.
Eventually, a job opportunity with Magnolia Manor transferred DeLong and his family to Richmond Hill, where they have lived for the past 12 years. DeLong left Magnolia Manor and begin a short stint with Habersham House of Savannah.
“When I hit 50, I said there has to be more,” he said.
After spending two years driving into Savannah to work at Habersham House, he felt a void. Working outside of his community left DeLong feeling like something was missing.
“I didn’t feel like I was a part of the community anymore; there was a hole in my life,” he said.
“I heard about a company that bought this community,” he added. “The chief operating officer and I met downstairs on a cold, fall October day. We cast a vision for what we wanted to do here.”
Construction on the Suites at Station Exchange began in 2013, and the doors opened in 2014.
According to DeLong, assisted living is meant to be an alternative to living in an institution. It was originally designed to be more like a home that would offer assistance and the opportunity to be independent. It was meant to be a place where one could still thrive and have a high quality of life. This is ultimately why it was designed.
“It has morphed into this industry of large sterile, and not as homelike, communities. When this opportunity came up, I knew it was my chance to be involved in assisted living the way it was meant to be,” he said.
As a child, DeLong grew up in home that opened its doors to his grandmothers, who both needed assistance at times. DeLong grew up playing cards and sitting around the table with seniors. He feels this exposure as a young man is what makes him so comfortable around seniors.
“I did odd jobs for the elderly in the community,” he said. “Whatever they needed, I would check on them.”
Despite thinking he would teach and coach forever, DeLong knows he is right where he is meant to be.
“I have never had a day since I started in working with seniors where I felt trapped or lost or in unfamiliar territory,” DeLong said.
In 2007, his mother, Mary, began her own journey in assisted living. DeLong began then to oversee his mother’s care, and he still does as she lives the Suites.
DeLong is an active member of the Richmond Hill community and has a zest for life. Choosing and finding joy are elements that continue to allow him to pour into the lives of those around him. He currently serves as the president of the Richmond Hill Rotary Club, is active in Richmond Hill United Methodist Church and writes the Senior Moments column for Bryan County News every other week.