Portland's intergenerational foster care community

Bridge Meadows
United States (Portland)

Everyone needs to feel valued and needed. That’s why psychologist Dr Derenda Schubert created a powerful intergenerational mini-village in Portland, Oregon, that bridges generations to “allow people their independence, but prioritises interdependence too.” 

Today there’s a higher proportion of older people living in our global society than ever before, thanks largely to better healthcare and increasing standards of living. Social isolation and a lack of meaning and purpose affect older people’s day-to-day quality of life, which can lead to physical and mental health issues.

In Oregon, there is an ongoing need to find foster care for the thousands of children who do not have permanent families in their lives.  Without healthy families and caring adults, children are at risk for academic difficulties, homelessness, and health problems.

Enter Bridge Meadows: an NGO in Portland that’s created a powerful intergenerational housing community that connects older residents in need of social interaction and purpose with youth who have experienced foster care and their forever families in need of love and support

The end result is a thriving, lively neighbourhood where kids feel safe spending time and learning together with local ‘Elders’. Over 55-years-old, they share their wisdom, experience, time, skills and, above all, affection – adding meaning and fun to their day-to-day life. (Applicants have to pass background checks.)  

Dr Derenda gets joy in seeing kids being kids: playing with friends, expressing their self-confidence and feeling like they belong. 

“When you see a little one running into the arms of one of their many ‘grandmas’, you know that both of them are thriving.” – Dr Derenda Schubert

Bridge Meadows appeals to its Elders for having affordable rent and its young and active family vibe. For some, it is the fact they can volunteer at least 100 hours to support and enrich the lives of local foster children through activities: playing, arts and crafts or enjoying a chat over a hot meal. The tasks carried out by community members can vary widely– from tutoring, childcare and reading to children, to helping another older person get to their medical appointment on time. The focus, as Bridge Meadows staff say, is not so much on the task itself as it is on ensuring that volunteers connect with one another to form social bonds and friendships.

Ageing well means that you belong, and that your life experience is valued, rather than discounted. “When you have a role in community, especially with children, you are no longer invisible; you matter in the lives of young people as well as other parents and elders. These connections soften the natural challenges of growing older, because people are looking out for you and care if you don’t come out of your apartment for a few days,” Dr Derenda tells us. “Today many older people are truly ghosted by the modern world, simply because of age. Living and ageing well means we care for one another and appreciate all of that life wisdom!”

Dr Derenda became the Bridge Meadows leader in 2007, with the intention to replicate the ‘affordable intergenerational community’ model already conceived and set up by Dr Brenda Eheart, founder and leader of Hope Meadows in rural Chicago and Generations of Hope Development Corporation (GHDC) – which was featured in Wes Smith’s 2004 publication Hope Meadows. It’s the true story of a revolutionary suburban town in Illinois built on an abandoned Air Force base with the single purpose of providing a solution to the revolving-door foster care system.

Bridge Meadows’ unique twist on the model was to design it specifically for an urban setting, expanding on the GHDC values to encompass intentional, trauma-informed architectural designs that heal individuals in the community.

“Bridge Meadows was this turning point for me and my brother and my family. I just like being able to play outside and being able to feel safe.” – participating foster child

Bridge Meadows has already become a model for others, such as a home for pregnant teens in Washington, D.C. and Bastion in New Orleans, an intergenerational community for wounded warriors. Dr Derenda passionate about bringing the team’s ideas further afield, both regionally and nationally, to serve even more kids, families and elders. 

But for now, everyone involved in Bridge Meadows is seeing and experiencing the long-term benefits of the hard work it took to build this project. It’s wonderful to see foster children who used to be without a permanent home and a safety net, now be excited to come “home” after school and have other kids and kind elders eager to spend time with them. And the elders have gone from living invisible, socially-isolated lives to becoming caregivers, tutors, teachers, useful to their local community; with the chance to pass on their own creative skills and experiences to a whole new generation – thirsty to learn from their new honorary “grandmas”.

AtlasAction: Donate to Bridge Meadows here.

Submitted by

Dustin Guerri (07 February 2020)

Bio

Cultural journalist and translator

Project leader

Dr Derenda Schubert, Executive Director, Bridge Meadows

Partners

This project has been selected as part of AgeFutures, a new storytelling project that maps the innovations transforming the lives of older people, and the designers, entrepreneurs and community leaders – across all generations – behind them. Atlas of the Future is excited to partner with Independent Age.

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