Officials held a grand opening ceremony Thursday for Ash Branch Manor, the new 70-apartment apartment complex for seniors in Pembroke built and managed National Church Residences, a nonprofit, nondenominational faith-based organization that has more than 355 facilities in 25 states, including 12 in Georgia.
The event, which lasted more than 45 minutes, began with a prayer from Pembroke City Councilman Johnnie Miller and Christian music from Bryan County Sheriff Mark Crowe.
“What an honor. It felt like I came to a groundbreaking and a worship service broke out,” National Church Residences President and CEO Mark Ricketts said, adding that struck the right tone for an organization and a building meant to bring people together in a time when many in the country are divided.
“We just have one simple statement, we just want to advance better living for seniors,” Ricketts said.
He said National Church Residences began 60 years ago when four Presbyterian ministers in Ohio set out to build one campus. It’s since expanded into dozens of states, with some 25,000 residents, and intends to continue.
“We’ll continue to do that because the need is so great,” Ricketts said, adding “over the next 15 years 10,000 people a day will turn 70 years old. That doesn’t add up to much, but that’s 365 days a year for 15 years, and in that window our senior population will grow from 45 million to 94 million.”
Ricketts said the need for affordable housing in Georgia is “great,” and that providing housing and services to seniors is about more than just putting a roof over their heads.
“Giving them a great place to call home is an investment in health care,” he said.
Eric Borders, a member of the NCR Board of Directors and a native of Atlanta whose church, Wheat Street Baptist Church, provides affordable housing for more than 208 seniors, called the effort to provide affordable housing for seniors “a beautiful thing.”
“When you’re you’re in your 30s and 40s, this stuff is interesting,” Borders said. “But even in your 30s and 40s, your parents are in the 50s and 60s. And then when you get in your 50s and 60s, this stuff is relevant.”
Officials from NCR called its working relationship with Pembroke officials one of the best it’s had, while Pembroke Mayor Judy Cook said it’s the best project she’s been involved with during her 40 years with the city.
“I’ve never had a more positive experience with a project,” she said.
Cook also noted the project drew a lot of attention because it was the first three-story building in Pembroke, and met with the approval of neighborhood residents, including a handful who served as unofficial official inspectors to keep an eye on things and keep her updated.
“I got updates every day,” she said.
Also speaking was Mayor Pro Tem Tiffany Walraven, who recalled meeting with NCR representative Sarah Branch and members of the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing in 2014, “with just a dream of what we wanted the facility to look like.”
Walraven called Ash Branch Manor “nothing short of a blessing to our community and its residents” and the latest in a series of projects to improve the lot of residents.