Derenda Schubert: Building Bridges Across Generations
Adam and his little sister were living in a home where drugs were rampant and food was scarce. Eventually, their situation was discovered, and they were placed into foster care. As elementary school children, they did not understand what was happening in their life, but they had each other. One of their relatives learned about their plight and scooped them up. She took these children into her home and worked to create a life surrounded by a caring community. A village for her family.
For many years, my family had a small tapestry hanging in the kitchen that read, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots and the other wings.”
Roots to ground ourselves and know where we belong and our place in this world – to have a sense of permanence. Wings to explore the world, grow our gifts, and discover the best way to contribute our talents – living out our purpose.
Imagine, not just one person, but a community where each member is grounded by deep roots and empowered with strong wings. A place where all generations know they belong to something bigger than themselves.
Each day, I am amazed to see the power of individuals who come together united by a purpose in the intentional, intergenerational community of Bridge Meadows (www.bridgemeadows.org). The residents of this neighborhood community come together for a specific purpose – helping children become adopted from the foster care system. Adoptive parents in the community become forever families for the children, and elders become valued tutors, mentors, and honorary grandparents.
There is reciprocity among the generations – a web of support. A strong community fabric is created providing all generations with a sturdy foundation to weather life’s trials and tribulations, and to celebrate life. At Bridge Meadows, children thrive from the love and wisdom of the elders, parents feel support and camaraderie, and elders live with new meaning and purpose.
The Stanford University Center for Longevity reports that there are three key areas associated with long life - financial security, health and social connections. Many cultures around the world have already figured this out and live naturally in a three-generation setting establishing the cultural norms, sharing traditions and life experiences, and creating safety to the community.
Living in age silos creates a barrier to transferring important cultural information across the generational lines, causes disconnection between community and children, and puts parents and elders at risk for social isolation. Social isolation is like the carbon monoxide poisoning to health, well-being and connection. Susan Pinker in The Village Effect emphasizes the power of living connected to one another, so that we may live a healthy, long life.
In a Bridge Meadows intentional, intergenerational community, the roots sprout from the connections made among the children, parents and elders. Children flourish in school and their past issues subside allowing them to live happy lives. Parents report feeling more effective in their parenting skills and supported in the “village.” Elders are living healthy lives (i.e., decreased blood pressure, diabetes better managed) full of meaning and purpose. Each generation has flourished with stable housing, social support from one another and living with meaning and purpose – the perfect antidote to social isolation.
My favorite time of the week is “Happiness Hour.” Each week the community comes together to chat and share a meal. Miss Rayna* makes sure there is a delicious meal complete with dessert. Today, homemade pizza, salad and red velvet birthday cake was served for the monthly birthday celebration. One of the children has created a treasure hunt for the children. He confidently describes the rules and soon all the children are searching for their treasures down the hallways. A perfect afternoon!
These simple moments don’t seem that extraordinary on the surface, but when your life has been fraught with instability, these moments are huge in creating a foundation for blossoming and sharing one’s gifts with the world. As one of the elders says, they are “Helping to heal a small tear in the social fabric.”
According to AARP, 10,000 people a day are turning 65 years old each day. This is an incredible amount of human capital just waiting to contribute to society; an army of capable people who have so much to share with the world. Imagine if all children had the caring hands of elders in their lives. Bridge Meadows provides a special place for all ages to live and grow.
Think about how you can live this BIG IDEA in your own life – when was the last time you took a moment to listen, speak or engage with a person from another generation? Think about how you can be a part of building bridges across the generations.
A licensed psychologist with extensive professional experience in counseling children and families, Dr. Derenda Schubert has found herself creating, managing, and evaluating foster care and mental health programs in Chicago and now in Portland. Dr. Schubert’s passion is discovering intergenerational solutions to complex social challenges.