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Foster families find and share support with elders at Oregon housing community

April 15, 2014 at 6:41 PM EST
At a special housing development in Oregon, families who adopt foster children live side by side with seniors who volunteer their time in exchange for affordable rent. The NewsHour's Cat Wise reports how members of the intergenerational community find support and connection together.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Picking up on what we just heard, next, turning the corner — about 15 percent of seniors in the U.S. live below the poverty line and many struggle to find affordable housing. But a unique community in Oregon is offering low-income seniors reduced rents, in exchange for their time, volunteering time, to be specific.

The NewsHour’s Cat Wise reports for our Taking Care series.

JACKIE LYNN, Resident, Bridge Meadows: What can we draw?

CHILD: Maybe a pirate?

JACKIE LYNN: How about if we have a pirate that is into flowers?

(LAUGHTER)

CAT WISE: Four years ago, Jackie Lynn began the process of adopting her niece’s children, who were living in the foster care in Portland, Oregon. Their mother and father, both drug addicts, are now in jail. Lynn is 60. She’s raised two grown children of her own, and she works full-time.

JACKIE LYNN: It was tough. I had no support whatsoever. I would be fixing dinner, and doing homework, and taking care of kids, and laundry, and all of it. But the kids weren’t getting the attention that they needed.

CAT WISE: But, in 2011, Lynn and the kids moved to Bridge Meadows, a supportive housing development for families who adopt foster children. That, in itself, is pretty unique, but what really sets this property apart is this.

JACKIE LYNN: Hello.

JIM CORCORAN, Resident, Bridge Meadows: Hey. Where’s my buddies?

JACKIE LYNN: Hi. Well, you look nice today.

JIM CORCORAN: Thank you.

JACKIE LYNN: Hi.

CAT WISE: Jim and Joy Corcoran are Lynn’s neighbors, and they are known here as the elders.

JIM CORCORAN: I think we ought to go over to the park. What do you think?  Because we haven’t been on the play structures in a long time.

CAT WISE: There are 27 apartments at Bridge Meadows for low-income seniors who agree to volunteer about 10 hours a week with the adoptive families, in exchange for reduced rents. And for Jackie Lynn, that support has been crucial.

JACKIE LYNN: They are the reason that we thrive. Jim takes the boys every Sunday morning for about three hours. And they come home excited, with all these wonderful stories. You see children running up to them and giving them hugs. It’s just incredible to watch it.

CAT WISE: Jim and Joy Corcoran, who struggled financially after Jim lost his job in the construction industry, now pay $500 a month for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment.

JOY CORCORAN, Resident, Bridge Meadows: It was really difficult to find any decent housing that we could afford in any regard. And so when we had the opportunity to move here, it was just a godsend. It was like a huge relief.

CAT WISE: Joy is an artist with a long-term disability. She leads story time every week in the community library.

JOY CORCORAN: It’s sort of almost like a fantasy of being a librarian, or a teacher, or something like that, that I can’t really do physically, but now I have that option to share with children.

CAT WISE: The development is funded by rents, as well as donations from corporations, foundations, and private individuals.

The old and young mix here, every day, in multiple ways. Once a week, everyone comes together in the intergenerational community room. Elders provide babysitting, tutoring, music lessons, even rides to school. And there are counselors on site to help both the families and seniors cope with the challenges of caring for children who have often been through a lot.

Derenda Schubert is executive director.

DERENDA SCHUBERT, Executive Director, Bridge Meadows: One of the beautiful features of Bridge Meadows is that there’s reciprocity among the generations, so the elders are providing love and support to the families, and the families are doing the same, and even the children are giving back to the elders.

CAT WISE: In fact, Schubert says that the health of many of the seniors, both physical and mental, has improved since they moved in. But she admits the close-knit community is not for everyone.

DERENDA SCHUBERT: We have had some folks move in and realize, oh, this is a little too much for me. It’s a little bit of a fishbowl, and I don’t know that I want everybody knowing my business. Like, the best part is people know your business, and the worst part is people know your business. So if that’s not something you’re looking for, an intentional intergenerational community is probably not for you.

But if you really are looking for a group of people who you feel like you’re now an integral part of a community, then this is a beautiful place to age.

CAT WISE: For his part, Jim Corcoran says he can’t imagine being anywhere else.

JIM CORCORAN: We’re flourishing and evolving in this environment, and we’re growing big time. If you go to live in an apartment complex with a bunch of older people, for instance, people kind of wither away, and it’s really not right. Connections across the generations is critical, absolutely critical for aging well.

CAT WISE: Demand for housing at Bridge Meadows remains high from seniors and adoptive families. Some 8,000 children in Oregon’s foster care system are awaiting permanent placement. Construction on a new property, across town, is expected to begin next year. And Bridge Meadows staff are now consulting with several other communities around the U.S. that are planning to open similar developments in the coming years.