History Makers in the Making . . . Mack & Gwen Willis, a husband and wife team who are making history and making a difference in Atlanta

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When you think about it, you realize that history is being made every day.  When I consider some people and situations that I have witnessed, I recognize those people are making history even as we speak.  Mack and Gwen Willis are two of these people.

In December of 2000, Mack and Gwen cut the grand-opening ribbon; and Summerset Assisted Living, located on Benjamin E. Mays Drive in Southwest Atlanta, opened its doors for business.  At that time, Summerset had one permanent resident – Lois Wright – who was Mack’s aunt.  Mack’s reasons for building this facility were as admirable as the facility that was built. This was when they started to make history.

Mack and Gwen left successful careers to do good and to follow their dream.  With Mack’s MBA background and Gwen’s Ph. D. in counseling and psychological services, they proved to be the prefect team.  The management experience which Mack gained while working with IBM and Gwen’s counseling and professorship background serve them well.

The motivation to build an assisted living facility came about when Mr. and Mrs. Willis were searching for a home for their elderly Aunt Lois, and they wanted her to be placed in a home within their community. Aunt Lois had been a stalwart supportive friend in their lives helping them as a young couple and Mack wanted to return the kindness. When they were unable to locate a residence that would care for her in a manner which she had been accustomed to, they decided they would step up to the plate and try to fill this obvious gap in the community’s resources.

Summerset, probably the only African American owner-operated assisted living facility in the south, is a grand and stately facility; and it is a welcomed addition to Atlanta’s Black business base.   But even more important than the architectural significance is the fact that Summerset has sustained growth and maintained a successful business within the community providing a valuable and necessary service. “We insure that each day at Summerset is complete with meaningful experiences that support the heart, mind, body and soul of our resident family members.  It is also of paramount importance that a rewarding and respectful working atmosphere for staff permeates throughout Summerset,” says Mack and Gwen.

Summerset Assisted Living Community opened (in 2000) with 46 suites to accommodate seniors.  In 2007, Summerset expanded with an additional 61 suites and a 4000 square feet multi-purpose room (which carries the name of Aunt Lois). Many of the suites have been converted to double occupancy based on the needs of the residents who simply want more room.   Over half of the residents at Summerset are there because of short-term memory loss; but these folks are a lively crew who are enjoying life.

The assisted living approach to caring for the elderly grew out of the need to accommodate longer life spans which we are experiencing coming from a better quality of life that medicine has afforded.  These assisted living facilities fill the gap between living at home and going into a nursing home.  Aging adults, sixty and beyond, sooner or later are often forced to decide how to scale down their lifestyle; and their loved ones (usually their children) have to deal with the decision of   “who will be the caretaker.”  Thank you Mack and Gwen for providing one solution!

When a family comes to Summerset looking for a home for a loved one, Mack Willis researches every possible source of financial assistance for admission.  Gwen shares her husband’s motivation to reach out to those in need and provides a hands-on approach to staff and residents assuring that their high standards of care are consistently maintained.

To date, the residents at Summerset number slightly over 100 senior citizens.  The facility is a model institution; and to keep it so, the Willises know that it is necessary to provide competent professional staff, quality food, comfortable surroundings and life-enhancing activities.  Assisted by their young adult sons, Mack, Jr. and James, who have joined the staff, Summerset boasts of an array of specialists including dietitians, licensed caretakers, registered nurses, medical technicians, recreational director, cosmetologist, podiatrist, manicurist/pedicurist, and clergy.

The greater Atlanta community is beginning to recognize the contribution made by Mack and Gwen Willis.  Mack Willis was the recipient of the 2011 “Metro Atlanta Chamber Business Person of the Year Award”  in the Experienced Entrepreneur category.  The award is given to an entrepreneur who has owned their business for at least five years, and has demonstrated exemplary business achievement, customer growth, community leadership, industry influence and entrepreneurial success.

Summerset Assisted Living Community has a place in history.  But more importantly, Mack and Gwen Willis have a place in the hearts of those whom they serve.  Those of us who have visited the facility and who know Mack and Gwen understand the commitment they made to make this venture a success.  Summerset appears to be their ministry – something in which God has a hand.

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