I volunteer at the ElderSpirit Community at Trailview in Abingdon through my work as an AmeriCorps student at Emory & Henry College. I initially assumed it would be like working at a nursing home and I would play a role as a care giver. I assumed wrong.
During a course on coal I have been taking with the group, I had to consciously remind myself that these older people had a life full of stories before I was born. In the midst of a political discussion at a community dinner one day, I was impressed by the temperate disposition of the debate and the balance between fallibility and confidence. The more I have shared experiences with members of ElderSpirit, the more reluctant I feel towards my initial assumptions about the elderly that took for granted their stories, their intellectual curiosity, their capacity for open-mindedness, their desire to bridge generation gaps, and their wisdom that is far more refined and reflective than my own. Indeed, I have never felt like a care giver at ElderSpirit. If anything, I consider myself a young friend.
I serve the ElderSpirit Community along with six E&H AmeriCorps students, Maria Byrd, Devon Carter, Devan Crabtree, Haley Gilbert, Breanna Morrow, and Alaina Zitzmann.
ElderSpirit is an intentional co-housing community for people who are 55 or older, that emphasizes mutuality and late-life spirituality. The idea for such a place originated from a committee of the Federation of Communities in Service that was created in 1967 by a group of women working to enhance community service and development in Appalachia. Throughout the years, the group expanded in number, gender, and age and began to focus their efforts on aging and co-housing models, selecting a location in Abingdon that borders the Virginia Creeper Trail as a prime site for the growth and fruition of their idea. The Abingdon community opened in 2005.
The community flies in the face of our culture’s expected stereotypes of the elderly. We often forget the capacity and competence of folks who have reached retirement age. We often ignore the universality of aging and death and the manner in which we want to live. ElderSpirit’s core values include spirituality, mutual support and assistance, service, simple lifestyle, respect for the earth, the value of the arts and recreations, and awareness of health and care during illness and dying. The manner in which they live out these values offers an inspirational, positive approach to aging.
To a degree, the community is self-sufficient. Members of the ElderSpirit community meet on a regular basis to make decisions on issues that affect their community at large. When someone is sick, the community provides support through meals, transportation, and visits. They are extremely active in civic life in and around Abingdon. Their desire to partner with Emory & Henry College is just one example of this involvement in the community.
Just in my twenties, my interactions with the elderly have revolved mostly around my grandparents, church friends, or the occasional visits to a nursing home. I am just now learning that older people are not that different from me. Working with ElderSpirit has given me the opportunity to truly realize the full impact that living history has on our present.