I have always enjoyed this month. My family has Valentine traditions we still enjoy–although not always exactly on Valentine’s day. Inspired by the movie, Lady and the Tramp, we make a homemade spaghetti dinner that we all look forward to! And we exchange Valentine gifts. Traditions have a way of building bonds between families and communities.
If we were not still dealing with Covid we would welcome you to a Friday night party, sharing spaghetti and music. Guests would bring their favorite desserts and foods to share. Because of Covid, we will be a much smaller group–but eating spaghetti and festive all the same! You can join us on facebook live for music Friday February 12th at 6pm CST! Although we would prefer to be together, we enjoy seeing your names and comments during these events!
Some of you may have noticed that we did not get a January newsletter out this year. There was a reason. After Christmas, a number of our staff found out they had been exposed to Covid. So, for a while fewer of us were able to work as we waited to see if people developed symptoms. The newsletter was a casualty of decreased staff availability. Thankfully, Covid did not get into our home! We are so grateful for everyone’s diligence in following guidelines. And we look forward to spring when we can see more of you outside.
In the meantime, we are having all kinds of zoom meetings as we work on plans for our expansion and capital campaign. Many wonderful people are working together on this expansion! Last week I also had an opportunity (and have another upcoming event) to speak live in a UW classroom at the school of Human Ecology. Students and staff have taken an interest in our expansion project. Interior design students are working on ideas for our intergenerational common space. This space includes our multipurpose and stage area, the adult and child daycare and afterschool programs, dance and exercise room, guest rooms, reading room, computer lab and offices. We discussed the importance of making a place that is comfortable and inviting to multiple ages and visitors from the surrounding community. The discussion included ideas around building community among multigenerational and diverse neighbors and community members. The students had many thoughtful questions. We talked about safety, surfaces and managing sound in intergenerational spaces and places.
Eventually the conversation moved to the lost art of community building in our society. One student asked if I had an opinion as to why our society is currently so polarized. I told her that I think people have become afraid of each other. As countries develop, it is common to separate people by defined groups. Separation by age is an easy example. As more people moved to cities, one room school houses were replaced with preschools, grade schools, middle schools and high schools. Older adults could no longer be cared for in family homes as most adults began to work outside of their home. Without an adult home during the day there is no one available to care for frail grandparents. So, older adults moved to retirement communities and care centers–generally found on the edge of town away from children and families. I asked students to raise their hand if they grew up knowing their grandparents. A little over half of the class raised their hands. I suggested that for the students that did not know their grandparents, it is likely that they may be uncomfortable around older people.
I then pointed out that, in the United States, we also separate people by income level– building more expensive housing in one area and affordable housing in another. People of different income levels are often uncomfortable around each other. So, we have mixed age groups and income levels not interacting even before bringing racial and spiritual diversity or differing sexual orientations into the conversation. It is well documented that racism and phobias persist in our society. And once people groups are defined, the tendency is to identify the problems different groups pose to society. And problems feel scary.
So how do we help people become less afraid of each other? I believe we start by creating safe settings where diverse people come together to hear each other’s dreams and stories. In the TIIN program this will be one of the first steps to building intergenerational friendships. The surprise often is, that although each person is unique, in the end we are more alike and wanting to help than different and scary.
The TIIN program starts building safe communities during classes taken by all people interested in living in the TIIN. These classes explore intentional living in a diverse community. Student’s will hear each other’s stories, explore diversity and begin to create a path for sharing interests and helping each other work toward goals. Building equity will start when people identify how their strengths can be used to help where others might experience limitations.
Each household in the TIIN expansion will agree to give 6 hours of time to their neighborhood weekly. The needs and strengths of multigenerational neighbors will be coordinated by a neighborhood Time Bank. Staff and neighbors will work side by side to help build needed equity so young and old can move forward with their goals. Neighbors will empower each other by asking for and providing needed help. Followthrough with the time bank will bring people into helping relationships. As neighbors spend time together, the opportunity for developing diverse meaningful intergenerational relationships grows. Neighbors will intentionally listen, problem solve, work, play and create traditions together. Social support helps to keep seniors healthy and active longer while developing greater resilience in young people. The TIIN culture is welcoming and expects something great to happen! We nurture hope for happy days and meaningful futures surrounded by a family of friends. This is where love begins!
Happy Valentine’s Day!