Connecting a Gay Retirement Community Resident with College Students
Last Friday I had the honor to be part of a dialogue between Dorothy Roseman, an 87 year old gay resident of a Retirement Community in Philadelphia, and five student leaders at University of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Center.
The conversation was emotional at times and illustrated that a powerful opportunity exists for the generations to really help each other. On the heels of recent press coverage about Tyler Clementi’s suicide and stories of gay elders returning to the “closet” when they transition to senior housing it is clear that there is huge potential for connections with purpose in meetings like this.
I was really impressed by the maturity, the unique life stories, and the challenges that the students have faced and how engaged they were in listening to Dorothy. Dorothy was a great role model for the students, asking lots of questions about their lives and sharing bits of wisdom. It was a bit sad having to leave the campus; Dorothy made a statement about how comfortable she felt at the center. I hope she takes the students up on opportunities to volunteer at the center!
Dorothy shared her personal story of having two partners in her life, one for seven years and another for 45 years, Sally. Sally was 11 years older than Dorothy and began to have some health and mobility issue that prompted them to move to The Watermark at Logan Square, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Center City Philadelphia. Sally passed away five years ago, and Dorothy has maintained an active lifestyle volunteering and serving on numerous committees at The Watermark at Logan Square. She clearly misses connecting with others who have shared similar life experiences.
Dorothy professed that she was not an “activist” but as she recounted stories of her life it was clear that she lived a courageous life during times where being “out” was not as acceptable as it might be today.
An Interesting Journey
Shortly after I “moved” into my first retirement community I received a call from Sharla Feldscher, a consultant for Watermark Retirement Communities. We started brainstorming about ideas for a move to one of the communities. I have been comparing making the transition to retirement communities to making the transition to colleges for a long time. With all the colleges in Philadelphia, we thought this might be a great opportunity to identify a resident and college student who might “trade places”. I planned on spending a few nights at The Watermark, to get to know the residents and talk about the project. At our first meeting we met Dorothy who shared that she might be interested in the project if she could connect with a gay student. Sharla and I immediately saw how this could truly be a great opportunity for different generations to help each other.
Over the next several months we worked on making the “trading places” concept a reality. It was one of Sharla staff, Becca Lane who was able to make a connection with a University of Pennsylvania Senior, and Equality PA’s youth organizer, Jason Landau Goodman to bring the meeting together.
A Great Start
I hope that this is just the first of many meeting for Dorothy and these students. I hope that meetings like this are replicated on campuses and retirement communities all over the country. I hope that elders who find themselves returning to the “closet” in their new communities are able to reach out to the students at nearby Universities. I hope that students facing life challenges reach out to elders to give themselves more courage, confidence and wisdom.