Since receiving the Gero-Rich grant, the Social Work Program at the University of North Texas has tried to think creatively
about how to use older adults as co-teachers in the classroom. We have used older adults as a panel in the HBSE I class to
reflect on various life stages from youth to old age. We have visited an affordable housing project for older adults and conducted
focus groups to explore transition issues related to moving from independent living to communal living. We have organized
focus groups for grandparents raising grandchildren and for the grandchildren themselves and prepared a report for a community
agency. We have utilized older adults in exploring spirituality and religion in diverse populations of older adults. We
have utilized older adults in discussing spirituality and religion.
Older adults from the American Legion Senior Center located in Southeast Denton, which serves predominantly African American
older adults, have frequently participated in panels and discussions. The participants at the American Legion Senior Center
are willing to share their stories with the social work students and help the students understand the importance of learning
the history of a community. The association with the American Legion Senior Center has provided very powerful and transformative
opportunities for learning social work knowledge, skills and self awareness for our students.
The American Legion Senior Center, Quakertown and Southeast Denton
As a tool for teaching the students about the importance of understanding the history of a community, the students listened
to the stories shared by members of the American Legion Senior Center about their early childhood. Many of these older adults
were born in Denton in a community known as Quakertown. The students learned that Quakertown, from the mid 1870's to the
early 1920's, was a thriving middle class African American community in Denton, with businesses, schools, and civic and communal
organizations to support the growing Black families. However, in 1921 the Board of Trustees of Texas Women's College, which
was located next to Quakertown, decided that they did not want their daughters walking past this neighborhood of black families
to get to school. They petitioned the Denton city commission to hold a bond election to "purchase all the land encompassed
by Quakertown and turn the area into a civic park. The bond election passed, and in May 1922 the city of Denton began to purchase
Quakertown properties...Quakertown soon disappeared."
(http://www/tsha.utexas.eduhandbook/online/articles/view/QQ/hrqgk.html accessed March 5, 2004).
Some of the residents currently living in SE Denton and participating in the American Legion Senior Center were young
children whose homes and families were displaced. Obviously this history is well ingrained in the stories passed down from
one generation to another. For many social work students this was their primary experience in hearing the first person narrative
of people whose lives have been painfully transformed by racial discrimination.
In addition to hearing about the racism and oppression experienced by the African American community in Denton as told
by some of the people who lived through it, the older participants at the American Legion Senior Center also taught the social
work students about grassroots advocacy. In the mid 1990's, a group of older residents in Southeast Denton had organized to
petition the City of Denton for permission to utilize the American Legion Hall in their neighborhood to develop a senior center
rather than attending the senior center across town. The older adults explained to the students how their persistence with
the power structure led to a decision to grant them access to the American Legion Hall to develop a senior center. The program
and activities in the Senior Center continued to grow and so in 2003, the neighborhood members again petitioned the city to
add another building to the center to accommodate the growing programs. While the city agreed to pay for the new building,
they would not pay for furnishings. The students discovered that single voices joined together can create change in a community,
and they also learned that even today, resources are still not distributed equally to both the senior centers in Denton.
Giving Back to the Community
Because of the generosity of time and spirit of the older adults at the American Legion Senior Center, the Macrosystems Practice
with Communities and Organizations social work class selected, planned, and conducted a fundraising campaign for the participants
at the American Legion Senior Center. The funds were raised to purchase items that would enhance programs and activities
for the seniors and provide needed furnishings for the new building. The items the students sought to purchase were determined
through face-to-face interviews conducted on site. After determining the needs, students designed a fund-raiser that they
felt they could plan in the allotted amount of time and that would yield the amount of money needed to secure the seniors'
requests. The fund-raiser they designed was a drawing for a "Millionaire for A Day" package. The items in the
drawing included stays at two prestigious hotels with dinner, golf and a massage, and 12 other gift baskets made up of donated
items. In addition to raising $1,445 in ticket sales, the students raised more than $2043.63 in cash and product donations.
At the fundraising celebration reception, the students presented the American Legion Center and its patrons with a check
for $2,400.00 along with a VCR, 4 sewing machines and a quilter's hoop.
This comprehensive project gave students the opportunity to learn how the history of a community and its people continue
to influence the attitudes and allocation of resources as well as learning to better understand aging needs in a particular
minority population. Students identified the needs of the American Legion through facility visits and personal interviews,
located those community assets (individuals and businesses) who could help provide the needed resources, and then contacted
community members, family and friends to support their cause. Although students began this project with apprehension about
conducting a fundraiser in one semester, after meeting and interviewing the participants at the Senior Center, they became
committed to the older adults and to the fundraiser. This experience provided a vehicle for the students to express their
appreciation to a remarkable group of older adults who willingly donated their time and gifts to prepare them to be savvy
geriatric social work practitioners. For more information, contact Harriet L. Cohen at email@example.com
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