Campus unites seniors, at-risk youth

Site offers social services, former church
Posted at 12:26 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-29 13:26:13-04

In north Omaha, friendships are being made, despite their age differences and backgrounds.

Last summer, Heartland Family Service and Holy Name Housing Corporation  opened a site to help seniors and trouble teens, known as North Omaha Intergenerational Campus for Human Services.

At Generations Center, friendships are made with one card game at a time, according to Mary Hill.

“Aaron will walk up to me. We'll speak. He'll ask me, ‘You want to play cards? I tell him, Yes.’”

The grandmother of 18 grandchildren says the relationship dynamics have changed within the last year.

When I first came here, the seniors and the youth were not communicating, Hill says.

But then, kids like Aaron began to hang out with the older adults.

“Just seeing this –  it warms me up and I want to spend more time with them and get to know them even more than I do,” he says.

The center – similar to a senior center – is located at the former St. Richard Parish and School, and is part of a site that includes senior housing, a youth crisis stabilization residential program, a Charles Drew health clinic and a community garden, according to officials.

On the lower level of the former school is the Generations Center. The upper level features the youth program.

“We speak every morning when they come down,” Hill says. “We play card games or sometimes we just have a roundtable [discussion].”

Aaron and the other teens are part of the Youth Links program and many are considered at-risk, having made decisions that landed them in trouble.

But at Generations Center, teens are not defined by their past.

To me, their background doesn't matter, Hill says.

“They don't judge them,” says Karen Sides, Program director for Heartland Generations Center.

Instead, seniors simply talk to the kid, Sides says.

They ask them questions like ‘What do you like? What do you want to be?’ And then they go on to tell them, ‘You have to do this, this and this,’ Sides says.

For Hill, she has lived a life of teachable moments and does not mind sharing her wisdom.

“If the seniors don't step in and pass our wisdom and knowledge to them  – to our youth today – our youth will be lost and then what's going to happen to that generation?”

To learn more about North Omaha Intergenerational Human Services Campus, click here.