By Joan Wallach
Rollo May, anAmerican psychologist, defined community as, “understanding, intimacy andmutual valuing.” What follows is a powerful, inspiring and perhaps unique storyof community, reported by residents at Highland West and Highland South SeniorCitizen Apartments about students from Bromwell Elementary, a Denver PublicSchool in the Cherry Creek neighborhood. Four Bromwell students reached outwith a request and together with dozens of Wheat Ridge elders embarked on ajourney of “understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing” that continues to grow.
Welearn from the Destination ImagiNation (D.I.) website (www.idodi.org) that D.I.is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for 125,000 USstudents and more than 30 countries. “Students form teams and experiencecreativity, teamwork and problem solving.” Every year students have theopportunity to compete in local, regional, state and internationalcompetitions. Students lead, utilizing their smarts and creativity, andcertainly in this case, compassion.
Ava,a 5th grader at Bromwell, has long felt the loss of her best friend andneighbor Willa, who had cancer and died at age 3. Ava wanted to give somethingto children with cancer, something that would be of comfort. Her D.I. teampartners, Abby, Justin and Samantha, all had been touched by people close tothem experiencing cancer. They signed on, and their challenge called 4Hearts4Help(http://4hearts4help.wordpress.com/) evolved into philanthropy, partnership,affection and success.
MomsErin Fletter and Mona Ferrugia are Team Captains for 4Hearts4Help and helpedfacilitate this remarkable project. The children decided they wanted to makeblankets and soon realized they would need some help. In thinking of who couldhelp, thoughts turned to “Grandma,” and because their grandmas were not nearbythey sought to find others who could help.
Lastfall, the team found the website for the Wheat Ridge Adult Center, located justsouth of the Highland Apartments, and gave them a call. The Center referred thecall to Steve Reemts, Leasing and Building Manager of Highland West Apartments,and the spark of a generous idea ignited.
Sofar, 120 blankets, extraordinarily soft, with a variety of colors and themes,have been distributed to children at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children andThe Children’s Hospital. Some residents made financial contributions, othersdonated special fabrics and many worked with the children and one another tocreate the unique blankets. As Reemts told us, “These are not wealthy people,and their giving says a lot about them.”
Ona sunny April day, Phyllis, June, Wayne, Jackie, Margarette and Peggy sitdrinking coffee together, ready to tell their stories. The group’s time atHighland West and South ranges from less than a year to 11 years. Their senseof contribution, admiration for the children, and enthusiasm for the projectshowed in everything they said and the blankets they created.
Phyllistold us the project was both “a perk up and a community builder,” involvingdozens of residents. Whether the cutters and knotters worked together or bythemselves, what Wayne called their “little cottage industry,” was a lot offun.
Theproject, youth led, reached across generations, in a way that felt rare andwondrous to the crafters. Knowing these youth and their initiative and focus onothers, gave hope for the future.
Theelders spoke glowingly of the Bromwell team. They shared that the childrenwanted to do more and more, and had recently, through the Raymond WentzFoundation, given a check for $1,000 to a family whose four year old child hascancer.
HighlandWest Senior Citizen Apartments could hardly be described as a hidden gem. The11 story high-rise reigns as the tallest building on 38th Avenue in WheatRidge, built in 1964, before height restrictions were passed. The buildingcontains 120 apartments with rents ranging from $480 to $922. The apartmentsalong with the sister complex, Highland South Apartments, (three buildings oflow cost housing with 117 units) are part of a nonprofit organization, HighlandSouth Inc., sponsored by Westminster and Wheat Ridge Presbyterian Churches. Thebuildings are nondenominational and people of many faiths and backgrounds arepart of the community.
SteveReemts has a Masters in Social Work, and a passion to help maintain a sense ofcommunity at Highland West. He is committed to going “above and beyond” inmaking sure active older citizens see Highlands West as home. There is anapproximate six month waiting list at Highland West, and a one year waitinglist at Highland South.
Formore information visit www.hwsca.com.
Aswe go to press, 4Hearts4Help is competing in the Destination ImagiNation StateCompetition. If they win they’ll go on to the international D.I. competition inKentucky. The Bromwell children move on to middle school next year, and theteam will no longer be together. Yet, their commitment is strong and they hopeto continue 4Hearts4Help through college.Wayne,representing the older participants said, “We’re juiced to continue.” However 4Hearts4Helpevolves, its impact for all participants lives on. Fifth graders reached outacross the generations and “understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing” createdcommunity for all involved.