Two organizations match old with young, white with Latino, and everyone wins

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CORNELL ESTATES - Florence Hess and Violeta Hernandez spend time together even after a partnership between Cornell Estates and Adelante Mujeres brought them together. For some, all it takes to bridge cultural and generational barriers is a conversation.

That’s why Forest Grove’s nonprofit Adelante Mujeres has teamed up with Cornell Estates Retirement & Assisted Living Residence in Hillsboro to link locals of different ethnicities and age groups.

The partnership has given both organizations a chance to learn, give back and acquire skills for a more fulfilling life.

The program matches specific Cornell residents with an Adelante Mujeres student. The Cornell volunteers make supplies for Adelante’s children’s programs. The Adelante volunteers get to practice their English as the pairs talk together.

Many times, the pairs go their separate ways when the semester ends. But for a few, strong relationships have formed.

When Florence Hess and Violeta Hernandez met, they immediately clicked.

“I knew there was something really special about her,” said Hernandez. “There was something inside me that told me I need to go over there and see her again. My heart tells me I need to be with her.”

They share stories of their families and children, growing up and coming to Oregon.

“Now she speaks better English than I do,” said Hess, laughing. “I was surprised we ended up having some of the same things in common. I didn’t think there was anyone like me.”

Hernandez is busy. She works as a babysitter. She’s trying to graduate from Adelante’s adult education program. She cares for her seven children, ages 10 to 21, by herself, now that she and her husband separated after what she describes as years of domestic violence. After the last incident, Hernandez said, when she felt her life was in danger, she vowed to raise the children on her own.

Even though her official partnership with Hess is over, she still visits to play bingo and catch up.

“She was so tickled to see me last time she came. I love that lady,” said Hess, stroking a necklace she made in a craft class which she hopes Hernandez will attend with her.

“Florence deserves to have more time,” said Hernandez, who eventually wants to go into social-service work.

Hess lives alone at Cornell Estates now, after her husband passed away in May. Her daughter lives in a group home in Hillsboro and her son is in Mississippi.

“Sometimes Florence feels sad so I make her laugh,” Hernandez said. “A lot of people who live there are all by themselves. They have a lot to say and give, and to keep it inside is to close life.”

Immigrating from Michoacan, Hernandez left her elders behind when she came to America.

“I don’t have family here except for my kids, and Florence treats me like a daughter,” Hernandez said.

Hess is so fond of the partnership she encourages other Cornell residents to join.

“It’s something to do and it’s my Christian duty to help and love all people,” said Hess, who grew up with a father who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and taught her to be scared of people with different-color skin.

“But I grew up and found out the Lord loves ‘em all,” Hess said.

“I love Florence. If my place was not so small, I would bring her to live with me until God wants to take her,” Hernandez said.

Hess and Hernandez exemplify the partnership’s goal.

“The intergenerational partnership bridges the gap of aging,” said Melissa King, community programs director for Cornell Estates. “There are stereotypes on both sides. It’s an introduction to a generation they’ve lived alongside but maybe don’t know much about.”

More than one pair has said “We’re so similar,” King said. “I hear that a lot.”

In addition to the conversational program, the Cornell choir is planning on teaming up with Adelante participants and learning a few Spanish songs. If they can coordinate a practice time, Adelante singers could join the Cornell choir in its performance Saturday, Nov. 30, at Hillsboro’s Holly Days celebration.

“We want it to be perfectly normal for residents of a retirement community to be part of the larger community,” said Cindy Cosenzo, who helps groups form intergenerational partnerships through her business, AgeCelebration. “Socialization is a huge part of health. Staying engaged in meaningful ways is like food and water to a human being’s survival.”

The partnership has been continually evolving, said Carrie Schmid of Adelante Mujeres, since the start four years ago with an initiative funded by Oregon Community Foundation that paired older adults with pre-school children to develop reading readiness skills.

Next spring, Cornell residents and Adelante students will share workouts, as both organizations emphasize physical fitness and healthy lifestyles, Schmid said.

They’ll host a joint Mother’s Day celebration, and collaborate on a “snapshot” project in which they’ll share stories with each other, offering a glimpse into each others’ lives.

Many organizations with similar goals work separately, Cosenzo said. “But we’re always looking to bring together those who wouldn’t necessarily spend time together.”

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