Envoy of Williamsburg lays on South Mt. Vernon Road, the very street on which I live. Before visiting I did some brief research on Envoy’s webpage. Envoy describes itself as a nursing and rehabilitation center which focuses on hospice care. The webpage makes it very clear that the location runs on Medicare and Medicaid as opposed to private payments. The building contains 130 beds; according to the webpage, 130 beds is above the average of most retirement communities. Envoy tries to spin this as a good thing, however, the page also mentions having realistic expectations for your loved one’s stay. This information leads me to believe that having those extra beds is not actually a good thing. Pure logic leads to the idea that having more beds leads to fewer nurses per bed. After looking over this information, I decided that Envoy is in fact a poorer retirement community regardless of the spin the website tries to put on their situation.

My first visit to Envoy ended rather abruptly. It was Saturday morning and I had to get up the nerve to actually walk into the building. I felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. “The staff there does not need some college kid wandering in and asking for a tour. They have much bigger things to worry about,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure if my normal garb would suffice for the visit. I rummaged through my closet and drawers looking for something that would make me fit in just a little more. I assumed that my outfit would give me away as a college student. I thought about putting on a sweater or a collared shirt but quickly realized that no one there would care what I was wearing. I figured I would just walk in and ask for a tour and explain the assignment. If they wanted to give me a tour they would; if not, I would just go home. It was another hour before I actually left. I drank a cup of coffee to help me gather my nerves and stepped outside. I assumed I would feel uncomfortable because I do not enjoy facing my own mortality. Nursing homes have always been something I haven’t enjoyed for this very reason. I do not like watching the end of the human spirit; there is nothing redeeming about it. I was coming over the slight hill on Mount Vernon and was waiting to cross Monticello when I noticed the ambulance in front of the building. I almost turned around right then. I held steady and kept walking. The lights weren’t on; I hoped that was a good sign. As I got closer though, I noticed EMT’s pushing a stretcher into the ambulance and I immediately turned around and went home.  I did not want to be the young guy who walked into a retirement home as someone was being rushed away to the hospital in the hopes of getting a tour. The time was not right for me to enter and so I waited for another opportunity.

I decided to go back Monday morning, I didn’t have class until 1:00 pm and Envoy is on my way to class anyway. I was not as worried about my entry into the retirement home this time. I had thought about my position in the community since my previous trip and realized I belonged there too. Of course, this idea was entirely because this assignment had been assigned; in any other situation, it would have been wildly inappropriate for me to stop in. As I approached, I noticed the care that had been put into the currently sparse garden plot out front of Envoy. While no flowers were growing, the plot had been carefully landscaped and when flowers did bloom, I was sure they would have looked lovely surrounding the Envoy sign. The building is one story. It has windows all around the perimeter and is rectangular. On the front of the building is an overhang that covers the driveway.  I crossed the street to walk on a sidewalk right up against the building and casually looked into some of the windows. The first one had the blinds open and inside was a nurse with three or four residents/patients who were playing a game; it could have been bingo but I’m not entirely sure. The rest of the windows had the blinds closed. I’m assuming these were people’s rooms.

A man entered the building just before me. I waited a second before going inside to read a sign that had been placed on the door. It warned against entering if you had any flu like symptoms. I immediately assumed that the people inside were very ill; I had known before but now it was ingrained in my brain. The reception desk was immediately to the right in a foyer that reminded me of every nursing home I had ever entered. The furniture and décor was plain. The wallpaper was not exciting. There was some reading material on a couple end tables; it focused primarily around Williamsburg. I began to feel uncomfortable, as I had been standing in line behind the aforementioned man for quite awhile. He was filling out some form before he could enter and my heart sank; only relatives of residents could really go inside.

I quickly tried to take in everything I could about the place before I would have to leave. Luckily, the receptionist received a phone call right as I stepped up to desk. I began to scour the surfaces of the room with my eyes. On a wall inside the hallway that went to the right, there were pictures of all the doctors or nurses that worked in the building. I noticed the vast majority of these employees were black. Other employees were walking back and forth through the foyer and I noticed that of the six that had passed though one was white. The receptionist was black as was the man who had entered before me; from the Visitor Check In Sheet, I noticed he was visiting his brother, who I assume is black as well. The people I had seen through the window were not all black but all the patients were. I have never felt so aware of my own whiteness. I hadn’t become uncomfortable but I slowly understood the divide between the nursing home and myself. I was almost the polar opposite of the residents; the few I saw were black, old, and based on the Envoy website probably not from a place of privilege. I am white, young, and my family is middle class. I had previously only really understood the age gap that existed between us.

The receptionist finally hung up the phone and asked if she could help me. I explained my affiliation to William and Mary and the assignment I was working on. She seemed excited that I was there but explained to me that they could not let any nonrelatives enter the premises. I thanked her for her help and asked if there was anything else she could do to help me. She showed me a brochure.

The brochure had pictures and much better descriptions of Envoy than did the website. There is a garden in the center of the building as well as a weight room and various other amenities I had not expected. I did not get to venture to these places but they were described as being quite nice.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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