It was a mid-morning on a Tuesday, and as it is typical of Tuesdays the three and four-year-olds of the United Methodist Community House (UMCH) Child Development Center were being instructed by their teachers to line up. Upon hearing their teacher’s instructions the young children stood up to form a straight line and began walking to the common room. The common room is the large room in the middle of the UMCH building where they had been told their friends would be waiting for them.
Unable to hold their excitement in, a couple burst into giggles as soon as they heard the clapping emerging from the half a dozen senior adults sitting in cafeteria tables in the common room.
“Here come the celebrities” June Drew says referring to the preschoolers who were coming to spend time with them and perform a version of “Jingle Bells” they had spent the whole week practicing.
June Drew is a senior companion at United Methodist Community House (UMCH). Drew was born and raised in the city of Grand Rapids, and spent most of her time working at a factory in Holland, Michigan. Today, Drew who is 92 years old, spends the majority of her days performing a variety of chores around UMCH including serving coffee to some of her friends who may have greater difficulty getting around. For her work, June receives a compensation and the opportunity to build a relationship with Rebecca Ryon, Administrative Assistant for the Senior Department at UMCH.
June has given Rebecca the nickname of “mom” because Rebecca takes the time to listen to her daily grievances while celebrating the little victories and joys June has in giving back to her community and loving on her cat Felix.
“I like helping people who are older. I wouldn’t have what I have without them,” shares Rebecca.
Both Rebecca and June were born and raised in Grand Rapids, and although there is more than forty years of an age gap between them, the two express sentiments of belonging when talking about one another.
“As long as I’ve got her I don’t worry about how I feel. She brightens my day every time I see her,” says June. Rebecca, who is passionate about creating environments where older adults are cared for, says that she feels UMCH gave her a chance to make a meaningful difference simply by connecting older adults with resources.
Rebecca sees June as an elder in her community and a source of wisdom that can help model living a life with the purpose of helping others.
“June has taught me that 92 is never too old to be independent and help others,”
June lives on the southeast side of Grand Rapids with her cat Felix, “a stray cat who was neglected and needed somebody to love him”, explains June.
UMCH for June is not just a place to access and receive basic needs, but it has a become a sortsofhome where she is greeted by her name, listened to, and valued for exactly who she is.
“It is important to take notice of the elders and their needs,” says Rebecca.
Many seniors in the community Grand Rapids are experiencing poverty and live in adult foster care homes or senior housing -- and accessing services can be tough.
For Rebeca this means bringing to light the barriers to affordable housing seniors in the community face, lack of health-care access, and access to healthy food.
By building a relationship with June, Rebecca has already begun the work of improving the quality of life of elders in the Grand Rapids community.