Friendly House Vision

Vaune Albanese, Executive Director

They say it’s good to start these things with a joke or quote. This quote is by J.B. Priestly.

“There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age – I missed it coming and going.”

Can you relate to that? I can.

I think there’s a lack of compassion in our culture for people who appear to be “different than…” whites from people of color; rich from poor; young from old. When I think about it in the context of this quote, that lack of compassion seems kind of silly. Creating space for people to come together, regardless of their heritage, wealth or age is so important to survival on this planet, and something Friendly House does really well. Today, I’m going to focus on age in particular.

Unless we die young, we all experience the classic beginnings, middles and endings that life inevitably brings. We all have experienced the love of those older and younger than we are throughout our lifetimes. Yet we who are older seem to forget at times what it’s like for younger people who are learning to express who they are, who are taking risks and making both mistakes and amazing breakthroughs, learning life’s lessons at their own speed. The experts tell us that baby boomers complain about what pampered do-gooders those millennials are and millennials can’t believe how self-absorbed we boomers are. Now, whether that’s media hype or truth, you can decide for yourself.

In western culture, we tend to divide our communities and activities by age – children in schools, older people in retirement communities, young adult students surrounded by other co-eds. We separate ourselves, perhaps for convenience, or to be in the company of like-minded folk, or so we can make our own marks on the world without our parents, or our adult children, trying to influence us. And some of that is really important! But perhaps we take it too far.

We strategize about how aging services can help older adults live more fulfilling lives. We strategize in youth systems about how to assist children to grow up to be productive members of society. But I think we all need to reach back into human history and pull from the wisdom of the ages, when generations lived together under one roof. Instead of separating, let’s bring people of all generations together. We have so much to learn from one another. Olders can help youngers and vice versa. It’s the experience of life in a multigenerational, interdependent, richly complex community that, more than anything else, teaches us how to be human.

I’m not suggesting four generations under one roof, necessarily, but I am talking about us stepping out of our comfort zones, about stretching our definitions of “community,” about getting to know people who are different than ourselves.

So often at Friendly House we struggle with how to express what we do and how important our work is. We tend to list our programs to people who want to know: Preschool, After School, Community Recreation & Education, SAGE, Senior Program, all nice and neat and separate. And we are those component parts. But as Mike ___, who happens to be a guest today, recently observed about Friendly House, our secret sauce is our ability to build community; the bringing together of people who, at first glance, may look very different from one another, but quickly find out they have more in common with that person they’re working out next to in our fitness room than meets the eye. They see that person every morning and pretty soon one of them strikes up a conversation, and that conversation leads to a friendship. And that friendship leads to a lifetime of mutual benefits. In the case of my neighbors in North Portland, a couple who met at a yoga class at Friendly House, it’s led to a marriage of 20-years-and-counting!  Or the 40-year old friendly visitor who felt he had something to give and now spends his spare time with one of the older adults with whom we work, helping with some housekeeping as the two of them bond over their many common interests. He emphatically states that he gets more than he gives in that relationship, but the man he is a friendly visitor to is quite sure the opposite is true.

At Friendly House we’re in the business of bringing people together to meet their mutual needs, young and old, moneyed and penniless, houseless and housed. And in this divisive and divided day and age, perhaps it’s the most important part of what we do!

I say “this day and age.” And yet, this is what Friendly House has been doing since 1930! From the beginning it was volunteers escorting older people to doctor’s appointments. Or coaches leading basketball teams. Or groups gathering to figure out how to make Portland a better place for all its citizens.

Friendly House is both INTER-generational (that is, occurring between younger and older generations) AND CROSS-generational (meaning we’ve been doing this work generation after generation).

To carry our work from this generation to the next, Friendly House must change as much as it must stay the same. That is why Peter and Rick Michaelson, and Karin Karlsson are helping us make plans to expand our square footage, not only because our programs are bursting at our buildings seams, but to allow for growth in the future. That is why Dan Steffey, CDP and Friendly House recently submitted an application for funding a 60-unit intergenerational residential facility for people who are homeless. Incredibly, the land is owned by Friendly House’s founder, First Presbyterian Church. What a useful three-way partnership that will be! That is why our board and committee members give of their time, talent and treasure. And that is why you are here today.

Most of us know what a Community Center looks like. But what’s harder to explain, and what makes us different from other community centers, is what Friendly House feels like…and then I stumbled across a Facebook post from a recent visitor to Friendly House.

“I found a small haven today, when I visited Friendly House. I was greeted with a smile when I walked in the door; I had a moment as the sun beamed down on me though the large windows while busy little people brushed past with teachers coaxing them quietly through the hallways. There were several adults on the computers at the internet center.  I could hear the balls bouncing off the rims in the gymnasium during noon hoops. The fitness room was abuzz with young and old, keeping fit, spotting each other, and cheering one another on.

There are few places I have found that can maintain this unique alchemy, a balancing of social types and tensions. As difference seems to multiply and fracture, this work of building community across spectrums seems increasingly important.”

And then there’s this quote from a Friendly House member: “I most appreciate the diversity of customers here in the fitness room. There are people of every age from 20’s to 80’s and every race. I greatly appreciate the welcoming attitude, the helpful staff and variety of services. The cost of services is very reasonable. Many thanks for all of the above.

These writers share so well exactly what we do. Friendly House builds community not in spite of our differences, but from them. We recognize that everyone has something to give, and to receive, and that we’re stronger, each of us for having had the opportunity to do both, together.

Thank you. 

And now, I have the pleasure to introduce to you something special. In past years at our fall lunch, we have mostly featured parents who have children in our programs, adults who grew up at Friendly House, or people who have benefitted from our programming for homeless families, who bravely stand up here and talk to you about what Friendly House has meant in their lives. Even though Friendly House provides cradle to grave services, we haven’t focused so much on our services for older adults. There’s a good reason for that. It can be difficult for someone in their 80s or 90s to participate as a testimonial speaker. Just standing here can be a hardship. But this year, we really wanted to feature older adults and the intergenerational aspect of our work. Thanks to our talented staff, we are able to bring to you some special people for a virtual visit through the short film you are about to see.

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