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Bringing residents together in multi-cultural senior housing

Posted: February 20, 2013

One of the many benefits of working in a multicultural senior housing community like JCHE is that you can walk down any hallway and take in the exotic scents of freshly-prepared recipes from around the world.  Someone is always cooking something that smells delicious, whether from China, Greece, the Former Soviet Union, or one of the other 27 countries represented in our resident population.  Residents look forward to cooking demonstrations regardless of the ethnic origin.  Whether it is a chopped liver "cook off," a Chinese rice dish, a "potato latke throw down," or an Indian curry feast, resident of all cultures participate.

Cooking is just one area that brings residents together despite their differences in language and culture. Art is another.  JCHE exhibits four permanent murals around the Brighton Campus that were created by a multi-cultural, cross-section of JCHE residents.  Working on a mural might have been the first time that a resident picked up a paint brush in her life, but she worked side-by-side with another artist who had years and years of experience.  Each JCHE senior housing community has an art studio and holds art classes, and each year the artists' work is exhibited in a special show.

Another activity in which any resident, despite their language of origin, can participate is exercise and play.  And they do!  A variety of classes are held each week that appeal to a wide variety of interests and abilities: chair aerobics, Thai chi, yoga, even Zumba.  Even if the class is taught in a language not spoken by the participant, many hand gestures, one-on-one demonstrations and smiles make the classes welcoming for all.  There are also opportunities for the residents to play ping pong and pool, even if they don’t speak the same language.   I love seeing two people who would not otherwise have an opportunity to interact with one another, standing around the pool table in the heat of a game.

Community-wide gatherings is another way JCHE residents of varied backgrounds and experiences come together to celebrate, encouraging all to participate.  Entertainers sing in several languages making the events feel all inclusive, and the speeches are always interpreted into Cantonese, Mandarin and Russian.  I would have to say that my favorite community gathering on the Brighton Campus occurs in the spring around Passover.  In addition to a mock Seder, we acknowledge that most people in attendance have their own exodus story regardless of the country of origin.  There is a mutual understanding among the residents and they all feel blessed to live at JCHE.

Caren Silverlieb, Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships, JCHE
February 21, 2013

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