Features

David Larkin – The Kendal Corporation

Facilitating inner peace in senior communities

In Northern California’s wine country, several spiritual sects are finding common ground. Literally, and all the better if they set an example through living side-by-side and sharing.

So says David Larkin, who’s had a hand in bringing together 60-and-older people of the Quaker and Zen faiths. This fall, residents began moving into a 200-plus-apartment senior living community called Enso Village-A Kendal Affiliate in the city of Healdsburg, just north of Santa Rosa. He reckons they’ll get along just fine.

“Quakers, for the most part, believe in continual revelation to all who are open,” Larkin says. “Zen followers maintain that the revelation has already occurred and seek to understand it. Though they’re all thinking about the same goals and values, they sometimes differ on how to get there, but blending the two philosophies makes sense because they are so aligned in their values. It’s not like ABC and XYZ.”

David Larkin | General Counsel |The Kendal Corporation

David Larkin | General Counsel |The Kendal Corporation

But working out the more secular matters hasn’t been as easy. If the path to Nirvana or Paradise takes commitment and diligence, the same has held true for bringing Enso Village to fruition. Though the project had been proposed over a decade ago, it may have been ahead of its time. Bringing it to completion took time and persistence.

Construction at Enso began construction around the same time when Larkin became general counsel and one-man legal team at The Kendal Corp., a Quaker-rooted and Newark, Delaware-based nonprofit with 11 affiliates—10 senior communities and a Life Plan at Home-based model called Kendal at Home in nine states—and likely soon more under its auspices.

Full circle

Enso—that’s Japanese for “circle” as in the universal expression of wholeness—marks Kendal’s debut on the West Coast as well as its first joint venture, the partner being the San Francisco Zen Center, a network of Bay Area practice and retreat centers whose roots go back to 1959.

In this new community, there are options for independent and assisted living in one- and two-bedroom apartments with add-on care for memory support and other special needs if needed. Amenities include Tai Chi, yoga, contemplative care groups, mindfulness classes, private and alfresco dining, and a meditation hall. There also are residences reserved for retired Zen monks and Quaker teachers.

David Larkin | General Counsel |The Kendal Corporation

“It’s the talk of the industry,” Larkin tells Blueprint in November. “We’re tapping into a different perspective, and presales went fast.”

He worked fast, too. Larkin pored through 300-page bond documents, met with stakeholders, finalized financing and construction issues and helped put in place the templates for a second joint venture, this time in the Los Angeles area. That second property, Enso Verde, has commenced with permitting and collected more than 125 deposits. By 2025, Larkin hopes to break ground and have the community buzzing with residents two years later.

Operating in good faith

While Larkin is neither Quaker nor Buddhist, he does have a way of inspiring the harmonic convergences necessary to advance Kendal’s interests. His legal and business smarts, augmented by experience in running nonprofits, dovetail nicely with the supportive and collaborative approach of the Kendal system.

Among his most pressing concerns has been getting the affiliates to re-up their commitments to Kendal and buy into the same master agreement. While Larkin says Kendal doesn’t seek to micromanage or mandate how its affiliates make decisions, he emphasizes how the system works better with all parties adhering to a best-practices playbook.

That’s had him doing Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy and asking affiliates, “What do you need from us, and how can we help?” He’s also making them more collaborative. For example, if one community has particular expertise in a specific area, such as building operations, he’d like for the others to know and reach out for advice while sharing whatever strengths they may have to offer.

David Larkin | General Counsel |The Kendal Corporation

“Our job at The Kendal Corporation is to orchestrate the collaboration and facilitation,” he says. “Understandably, over the last few years, affiliates were focused internally, navigating complex times and haven’t been as tight as they once were, and that’s one of the reasons I was brought in: To negotiate a renewal of the affiliation agreement and develop community. We’re not there yet, but we’re further along than last year.”

It’s a challenging landscape for senior living, especially in California, with its stringent rules and regulations about human resources, permitting, sustainability and other challenges. Yet, the Kendal System remains committed to transforming the experience of aging. Its model remains intent on setting a progressive new standard for senior living.  Larkin says the organization is looking to grow and has received overtures from communities interested in being under its umbrella. Kendal’s got several options to explore, including in university towns.

“Many universities want to keep their alumnae and retired professors engaged, and this is one way to do it,” he says. “A university might have an existing building that it might want to convert into senior residences. Or we might pursue projects that aren’t part of the university but are in the vicinity.”

Kendal’s got such models in Hanover, New Hampshire; Oberlin, Ohio; and Lexington, Virginia, the respective locales of three prestigious schools: Dartmouth College, Oberlin College and Washington and Lee University. And all affiliates have connections with institutions of higher learning. But wherever the Kendal community, Larkin emphasizes it’s all about providing the means for a resident’s golden years to be more fulfilling.

“You’ve got to stay active as a senior,” he says. “You shouldn’t just turn your brain off and watch ‘Wheel of Fortune.’”

Young at heart

Soon to be 60, Larkin shows no signs of slowing up, though he says Kendal will likely be the last stop in a career largely spent in-house since his graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1989. He did hone his skills for four years in real estate and corporate law with the New Jersey heavyweight of Hannoch Weisman, but since 1993, he has handled legal, community development, compliance and personnel roles in senior housing, real estate and construction and volunteering with nonprofits.

But, as Larkin says, it’s easy to stay motivated when you’ve got a mission instead of just a job.

David Larkin | General Counsel |The Kendal Corporation

Home life also satisfies Larkin and his wife—an HR director in South Jersey—having raised 23-year-old triplets. A lifelong basketball fanatic, he still plays pickup games, refs high school games and coaches a youth team. He might be limping the day after, but he’s not about to walk away from any activity that sustains his zest for living life to the fullest.

“I’ve been a point guard all my life, trying to see the whole court and make my teammates better.  That’s what I am trying to do at Kendal. We’ve all heard of the silver tsunami, and I’m excited to ride that wave,” he says. “If I can stay engaged forever, I will.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Winter I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: December 27, 2023

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