BPD Update Online, Spring 2004
Hartford Projects from Around the Nation
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What follows is a sample of the wide variety of projects sponsored by the Hartford grant. Space limitations prohibit publishing the full articles - go to the Pedagogy website at http://bpdupdateonline.bizland.com/ to read each of the articles. -Ed.

Harriet L. Cohen
University of North Texas

Participants in the American Legion Senior Center located in Southeast Denton, which serves predominantly African American older adults have frequently presented in various social work classes. They have been willing to share their life experiences with the social work students and help the students learn about the life experiences of older adults. 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.

By listening to the stories told by the participants of the American Legion Senior Center, the social work students discovered the importance of understanding the history of a community. The students heard the first hand stories by the older adults many of whom 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. In spring 1921 the Board of Trustees of Texas Women's College, located next to Quakertown, decided they did not want their daughters walking past this neighborhood of black families to get to school. So 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."

Some of the residents currently living in Southeast Denton and participating in the American Legion Senior Center were young children whose homes and families were displaced. Obviously the history of Quakertown is well ingrained in the stories passed down from one generation to another and continues to shape attitudes and behaviors of residents living in Southeast Denton.

For many students this was their initial experience in hearing the first person experience of those whose lives had been painfully transformed by racial discrimination. However, 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 students also gained other knowledge from the participants at the American Legion Senior Center. They 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. Thus 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, the city 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.

Barbara Shank
University of St. Thomas/College of St. Catherine

A highlight for us was our end of the year field work instructor appreciation luncheon in May 2003 that was attended by over 250 students, fieldwork instructors and social work faculty. Merrilyn Belgum, "Queen Mother of Comedy" was our keynote speaker. Merrilyn is an octogenarian social worker, educator and comedian. As her health had been of concern, it was gratifying for all present to celebrate her continuing ability to bring down the house. The title of her presentation was "Life is an Unsecured Loan - I'd Wear More Boas" and the key message, beside the importance of laughter and humor was, once you get older, age isn't important. It's who you are inside. To recognize and honor her lifetime of contributions to our profession as a practitioner, social work educator and comedian, we nominated Merrilyn for the 2003 NASW Minnesota Chapter Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented at our Annual Conference in June. Merrilyn Belgum was recognized with a standing ovulation (as she quipped). She was almost speechless when accepting the award, commenting that she never dreamed such a prestigious award would go to an old Lutheran. I should be so good at 60. Merrilyn is a role model for us all!

More Hartford Project Information is on the next page...

Spiral, Horizontal Line Spinning

BPD Update Online, Volume 26, No. 2, Spring 2004

The BPD Update Online Web Site is sponsored by Lyceum Books.