In Harford County, near Baltimore, a good, smart thing is happening. As the county’s director of community services, Mary F. Chance, said:
“We have figured out how to put kids and seniors together and make it work. This is the way public buildings are supposed to be used.”
, 27 March 2007 [free registration required]
- - Baltimore Sun
Ms. Chance was speaking at the dedication of the new Havre de Grace Center, where teens can play basketball while seniors take an art class. Where parents can meet about local issues or run a book club. Where there will be a gym, dance room, classrooms, library, study hall, computer lab along with a pool for youth relays, a therapeutic spa for elders and disabled swimmers.
The nearly-finished $6.4 million center is being built with public funds and more than $600,000 in private donations.
When people reach retirement age, some move to age-limited facilities, usually designated for 55 and older, with attached golf courses, tennis courts, modern gyms and other upscale recreational facilities. More want to remain in their homes, in the communities where they have lived for many years.
Even so, when we leave the workforce, when we get older, social opportunities become more limited. There is not the daily camaraderie with our colleagues. Families may live far away. Old friends begin to die and elders can become more isolated. I believe blogging can go a long way to creating virtual communities and we have discussed how close our online friends are – as important as those in our “real” life but whose numbers may be dwindling.
With such community centers as Havre de Grace, local residents can get to know one another and as the Baltimore Sun writer notes, “allow generations to mingle, socialize and work together seven days a week.”
Generally, the bookend generations – the very old and very young – are not given much opportunity to know one another. Karen Brown, the education director at a local Harford boys and girls club, pointed out how this new center can change that:
“This building will…give kids an understanding of what keeps older people young, and the seniors will find out [that] not all youth are hooligans. It will be a great learning experience at both ends.”
I haven’t done the homework to know if this sort of center exists much or is being built in other places around the country, but they should be and we could all pressure our local governments to get started. When I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon, there were such community centers dotted all over the city and I spent a lot of time at the one near my home. Grownups, elders and kids participated separately and together in all kinds of activities.
Elders are too often out of sight and out of mind, particularly from the worlds of young children. Unfamiliarity breeds ageism and these centers can help change that. There is no downside to this idea.
At the building dedication ceremony in Harford County, The Havre de Grace High School Jazz Band played big-band era classics and 87-year-old Elsie Collison said,
“I will call this place home. This is going to work, and we are all going to make it work.”