A History of Pioneering Leadership

ABHOW Founders

ABHOW started in 1949 with the establishment of Pilgrim Haven Retirement Community, now known as The Terraces at Los Altos, in Los Altos, California. The original purpose to provide quality housing and health care for retired American Baptist ministers and missionaries grew to include older persons regardless of occupation or religious affiliation.

From one community serving nine residents in 1949, ABHOW has expanded to 50 communities in six states, with more than 2,400 team members serving 6,200 residents. Today, ABHOW’s annual revenue is $250 million, and the company manages assets of $1 billion. The ABHOW Foundation maintains more than $50 million in assets.

ABHOW communities offer a variety of services and programs for residents. The company was one of the first organizations in the United States to provide continuing care. All 12 ABHOW continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) provide four levels of care and services: residential living, assisted living, skilled nursing care and the innovative memory support program, The Grove.

ABHOW is also one of the nation’s most respected providers of affordable senior housing. The company’s wholly owned subsidiary, Beacon Communities, operates 33 affordable senior communities in California and Washington. Each offers safe, supportive residential living, social and recreational activities, transportation and, in some communities, meal programs.

In line with the company’s dual mission to serve the residents of its communities and seniors everywhere, ABHOW leaders regularly share their expertise with regional, state and national trade associations that are engaged in senior housing and health care. ABHOW is a founding member of LeadingAge and is actively involved in professional associations in California, Arizona and Washington. On the national level, ABHOW leaders advocate on issues that affect older adults, including reforming the financing of long-term care.

All of these efforts spring from ABHOW’s heritage. The same spirit that inspired a group of leaders to create ABHOW in 1949 continues to guide the organization today. The company’s growth can be traced to its ability to prepare for seasons of prosperity and uncertainty through acquiring property, building new communities and expanding programs for residents, team members and neighbors. A lot has changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: ABHOW’s commitment to seniors is unparalleled.


Submit A Milestone

Explore ABHOW's history in this interactive timeline. Please contribute to this resource by submitting a historical milestone.

More Mission

A Nonprofit Adventure In Senior Living

The following excerpt about social accountability is from chapter 4 of More Mission.

By Daniel Pryfogle

Dr. Sue Roderick and David Grant are instrumental in documenting and promoting ABHOW's social accountability efforts.

Dr. Sue Roderick and David Grant are instrumental in documenting and promoting ABHOW's social accountability efforts.

The threat of losing tax-exempt status has hung over ABHOW and other nonprofit providers since the 1960s. California’s state legislature considered taxing nonprofit retirement communities in 1967. ABHOW leaders estimated the cost to Pilgrim Haven alone at upwards of $20,000 annually, a huge sum at the time. ABHOW enlisted its board members to contact the bill's sponsor and provided a form letter for that purpose which said, “It may appear that many such homes are ‘tax plums ripe to be picked.’ However, there are a number of factors which we believe you should take into consideration.”

The letter noted that nonprofit communities operate through donations and volunteer service; that most residents do not qualify for public assistance yet lack the resources to "care for themselves in dignity"; and that the cost to care for those receiving public assistance would be "considerably more" if not for the nonprofit communities. (Virtually the same argument is made today by ABHOW and other nonprofits.) The proposed legislation, the letter concluded, would increase operational costs. That would require the community to raise fees, “which would hinder if not eliminate our ability to take care of those of modest means.” ABHOW’s state trade group, the California Association of Homes for the Aging, increased dues the following year in order to step up advocacy for the tax exemption.

Steve Garner presents the Steven M. Garner Social Accountability Award to Plymouth Village Executive Director Keith Kasin at the ABHOW annual meeting in 2010.

Steve Garner presents the Steven M. Garner Social Accountability Award to Plymouth Village Executive Director Keith Kasin at the ABHOW annual meeting in 2010.

While nonprofit retirement communities wanted to protect their tax exemption, this was not the primary motivation for what came to be called “social accountability” in the 1990s. The first impulse was mission, from the Latin “missio” for “sent.” [Steve] Garner’s diagram reveals a corporate self-understanding that is fundamentally outward-focused: ABHOW is sent by God to serve; that service begins in the retirement communities then moves beyond. The rings of influence reprise the earliest Christian mission: the good news is to be shared with neighbors then strangers, from town to country to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

In secular terms that meant fostering the public good, according to a vision statement adopted in 1991. ABHOW leaders imagined providing models of care to the wider community, sharing expertise, information, and “high standards that can be replicated.“ The company’s philosophy statement, adopted in 1989, pushed even further outward: “Our comprehensive program goes beyond the provision of services within our own communities and attempts to effect changes within society which lead toward a fuller life for all of us as we grow older.”

“As a charitable corporation we exist for and are responsible to the communities we serve.”

—ABHOW's Statement of Philosophy

The philosophy statement shows a second impulse to social accountability: a sense of duty or obligation to others. “As a charitable corporation we exist for and are responsible to the communities we serve,” the statement reads. A nonprofit does not have shareholders; individuals neither own the nonprofit nor receive private benefit. But a nonprofit does have stakeholders — groups or persons who have a vested interest in the fulfillment of the mission. For ABHOW, stakeholders include residents, families, team members, community sponsors and partners, investors and regulators. Each stakeholder rightly expects something of ABHOW; and each is due an accounting of ABHOW's work.


More Mission

A Nonprofit Adventure In Senior Living

More Mission tells the story of American Baptist Homes of the West (ABHOW), a nonprofit organization whose mission drove it to innovate and expand as America and the world began to grapple with the challenges and opportunities of an aging population.

Spanning over six decades, the book captures the people, places and events that transformed ABHOW from one retirement community in Los Altos, California, into a pioneering leader of the senior living profession.

Foreword by Larry Minnix, Retired CEO of LeadingAge and Afterword by Dr. Sue Roderick & Kay Kallander, Retired Senior Executives of ABHOW.

Purchase Your Copy

Proceeds Benefit the ABHOW Foundation.