Desert Villa residents party with neighbors as elevators repaired

KENNEWICK -- The third floor at Desert Villa East was the setting for an unusual kind of celebration Monday.

Despite the red velvet ribbons on the wall, the jazzy holiday tunes flowing from a CD boom box, and the sweatshirts adorned with sparkling snowmen or Santa Claus in puffy paint, the gathering wasn't a Christmas party -- well, not exactly.

The handful of residents sitting around tables drinking punch and playing cards were using the replacement of the building's elevator as a reason to come out of their apartments, and for some to come out of their shells and meet their neighbors.

Carol Heckathorn, the office manager for the Desert Villa and Desert Villa East senior apartment buildings, said the buildings' owner has tried to make sure residents -- many of whom are home-bound -- weren't too inconvenienced by the two-week elevator replacement, during which the only way in and out of the building is by stairs.

"We knew with them being elderly, we want to make this as easy as possible on them," she said.

Heckathorn said the elevator is being replaced because it is 30 years old. The project also involves modernizing the elevator shaft to bring it up to current building codes.

She expects the work to be done by Friday.

Some residents were concerned about what would happen in case of a medical emergency, so Heckathorn brought in Kennewick firefighters to explain how they would be able to respond without use of the elevator.

And three young men whom Heckathorn said are related or family friends of the owner volunteered to run errands on behalf of residents who couldn't make it up and down the stairs.

The young men are performing everyday household tasks such as carrying down the garbage or running to the grocery store.

They even helped Betty Morris, 73, hang Christmas lights on her balcony.

"They ought to do it all the time," she joked. "It would be wonderful."

While the elevator is out, Heckathorn and the staff wanted to turn what could be a frustrating experience of having to climb flights of cement steps into something fun, so they organized floor parties each day to bring people together.

The staff laid out trays of fruits, veggies and other snacks, set up card tables with games, and offered door prizes for people who came out.

"We were hoping what would happen is they'd become more acquainted with the people on their own floors -- pull out some of our stay-at-homes " Heckathorn said. "It has worked."

Morris said she has gotten a chance to know her third-floor neighbors, many of whom otherwise would stay in their apartments.

Not everyone has participated. Morris said some residents have signs asking not to be disturbed, and everyone respects their wishes.

"They're very independent and want to be left alone, and I think at this stage in life they've earned that right," she said. "We honor that."

But the people who have chosen to come out have played games, laughed, made crafts together and become friends, she said.

"It's been nice to get to know each other," Morris said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com