The SHB Interview: Edwin Funes, The Arbor Company

by Jeff Shaw

Young gun works his way up from dining room server to executive, winning an Argentum Senior Living Community Leadership Award along the way.

By Jeff Shaw

Edwin Funes started young, but you could’ve guessed that by the fact that he’s a 35-year-old taking on a regional director role for The Arbor Company.

Arbor operates 45 communities in the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest and Texas. In his new role, Funes oversees seven of the Mid-Atlantic properties as regional vice president of resident care. 

He earned the promotion soon after winning the 2023 Argentum Senior Living Community Leadership Award, which functionally serves as an Executive Director of the Year award. He earned the award for his work as executive director of the recently opened Arbor Terrace Fairfax in Fairfax, Virginia.

But his journey started much earlier — as a high schooler working in a seniors housing community’s dining department. He caught the bug for seniors housing and soon found himself climbing the ranks at Arbor.

Seniors Housing Business spoke with Funes about his passion for seniors housing and what makes a great executive director.

Seniors Housing Business: Walk me through your career leading up to your current position.

Edwin Funes: It started in senior living back in 2005. I was still attending high school. I started with a senior living company as a server in a dining department for about a year until I transitioned to become a maintenance assistant.

As soon as I graduated high school, my mind was already set that I was going to become a nurse. That was my ultimate goal. I attended nursing school. While I was there, I was still working in senior living as a maintenance assistant.

I obtained my first nursing position in senior living in 2009. I started off as a charge nurse. [Charge nurses oversee the operations of their specific nursing unit during a set period while working alongside the team.] About a year to a year-and-a-half later, there was an opportunity that came about to become resident care director for the whole community. I threw my name in the hat and was granted that opportunity at an early age.

I always had a lot of ambition to continue to grow in my career. The one thing that helped me develop in the beginning was speaking to the residents and building those connections, getting to know their story. Those stories mattered so much to me. The time and era they grew up in was so intriguing to me.

I knew that promotion to resident care director was going to be a huge undertaking. I was relatively young, and I was going to oversee the care of 82 residents and about 50 staff members.

SHB: How long were you in that position?

Funes: I held that position for about eight years, but I wanted to join a company that really did care about the staff, the residents and families, and the overall larger picture. It was a huge blessing to join The Arbor Company. Overall, their culture, their vision, it’s something that always held true to my heart. 

My ultimate goal, as a resident care director, was to make a bigger impact in the community. I wanted to impact not just the resident care department and our residents and families, but also the whole community’s day-to-day operations. I was able to go through the Administrator-in-Training program for the state of Virginia.

I obtained my administrator license about five years ago. That’s when I was able to receive an opportunity to grow with Arbor and become an executive director at the Manassas, Virginia location, called Arbor Terrace Sudley Manor.

I started off as resident care director in Manassas. Then Arbor and its ownership group were going to open a new community, Arbor Terrace Fairfax. I was able to transition to Fairfax and help open that community from the ground up as resident care director. I could create my whole team, develop them, implement the processes and policies, training, and start the whole assessment process. 

We had a very fast startup at Fairfax, and my first time opening a new community. It was a lot of assessments, admission processes, a little bit of marketing with team members and putting our community out there. It was an all-memory care community. I was there as the resident care director for Fairfax for close to two years, and that’s when the opportunity came about for getting promoted to executive director at Sudley Manor.

There was a period where Fairfax didn’t have an executive director. I was helping support them about twice a week for about six months. But I lived in the area, so some of the Arbor team members approached me about seeing if I was interested in transitioning to Fairfax. 

SHB: What led to your promotion to the regional position? 

Funes: I know I have a commitment to excellence. My commitment and passion and desire to continue to grow shined while I was executive director at Fairfax.

During that time, we were coming out of COVID. It was a huge undertaking to bring a team together at Fairfax, growing our census, bringing more of that family feel back into the community, and helping to foster and nourish a great culture. 

We were able to succeed at our Fairfax location. We were able to get our community back to 100 percent occupancy with a lot of hard work and dedication from myself, our team and our support partners.

Since I joined Arbor, I’ve been able to change my life completely. A lot of their core values are what I was raised upon. My passion and my drive went into overdrive. I had a company where you’re heard and you’re able to go in and shine. They provide the support we need.

SHB: What are those values that you share?

Funes: It starts with being a fan. There’s a model that Arbor goes by: We listen, we respond and we care. Throughout my whole career, that’s who I was as a person. I always heard and listened to residents, family, staff — concerns, compliments, anything they might need. I would listen, respond and put action into it. Being a true family — that’s what they’re all about.

Deep roots in the industry

SHB: What first got you interested in seniors housing back in high school and what caused you to stay in the industry to rise through the ranks?

Funes: My brother started working in senior living as a maintenance director. I’ve always had family members who were nurses or worked in healthcare in general. They would talk to me about healthcare, and my brother would speak to me about senior living. 

That’s the route that I took. I said to myself, “Let me go try it out.” I needed, at that time, a part-time job after school. My love and passion just grew while I was working there.

SHB: Do you think that background of being a boots-on-the-ground employee helped inform your career now?

Funes: Absolutely. I have that experience working in multiple different roles and departments. It allowed me to appreciate and listen to and understand more of the challenges our team members face. Since I worked in similar roles, I could relate. I’ve experienced that before. That allowed me to empathize more with them.

SHB: We hear often from owners and operators that the executive director is really the key to success in any community. What made you seek out that position?

Funes: I had a huge desire to continue to grow, even early on in my career. I wanted to put a bigger imprint on what goes on in the community. That’s what drew me to become an executive director. I’m now able to have more of that influence on not just the resident care department, but our dining, our engagement programming, our maintenance, housekeeping, our receptionist.

I wanted to ensure that our residents and families receive the best care possible. Customer service has always been huge for me. I wanted to impact that a lot more.

SHB: Do you agree about the importance of the executive director position?

Funes: Absolutely I do. The executive director has the greatest influence in a community. You can make such positive changes and have a huge impact on staff, residents, families and the community at large. If you have that commitment to excellence — and I do — it just makes your community shine. Your department head, your leadership team will look up to you.

My leadership style is as a hands-on servant leader. That’s what has helped me throughout my career. That rallies my team — not just leadership, but I’m not scared to get hands-on with them and work right beside them. That makes a huge difference.

SHB: How will you take your experiences at the community level and implement them at the regional level with your new position?

Funes: It’s about bringing my experience, my wisdom and sharing that with each community. It’s going to be a larger footprint, where we can foster a culture and a community environment where staff feels heard and empowered. When frontline staff feel that, you can make a huge difference. 

Tackling labor challenges

SHB: You obviously have that passion for seniors housing that we often talk about trying to find in hires — to get quality employees who care about the mission. How do you find that or instill it in a person?

Funes: I always have a model of the character traits we need in a person. You can’t coach that. You can’t create that. That’s in them already. 

The physical or clinical aspect, we can train that. But first you have to find the right person with the passion and the drive of wanting to work in senior living. He or she might not have the skills, but the skills can come along with more coaching and education. 

The passion and the drive and the want, that’s what you need to hire. It needs to come with the person.

SHB: Labor is a constant concern for owners and operators. What can we as an industry do at the community and regional levels to make sure that we have quality boots on the ground — people who are happy to be in our industry?

Funes: It starts with coaching and education on our leadership team at the community level. We start with them — the directors and supervisors. Educate them on what works best, best practices. Make sure job applicants have that passion and commitment. 

You will find that money is not the ultimate goal for a lot of people. It’s more about working in this industry and making a difference. 

There are a lot of people that I have met down the line that have such a passion for it because at one point in our lives we might need that care, too. We hope to get the best care possible, so we want to make that greater sacrifice now to pay off down the line. 

It all begins with coaching and educating the leaders of each community so they can pass that message along, and educate and promote and inspire the frontline team members.

SHB: What’s something people in the industry might be surprised to learn about you?

Funes: The press release about my award said that I might be young, but I have an old soul. That’s truly me. My family, my mother, my wife, my brothers — they say, “You’ve been like this since we remember.”

Also, I’m a huge sports fanatic. I love the outdoors and I love to travel.

SHB: Living in Northern Virginia, does that mean you’re a Washington Commanders fan?

Funes: No, not at all. It’s the total opposite. I’m a Green Bay Packers fan.

SHB: How did that happen?

Funes: At a young age, I was given a little football from the Packers and I always had it. I started watching the team on television, and I grew to start loving the team. It was the Brett Favre era.

You may also like