Where youth and the elderly collide

By Reade Brower | Sep 22, 2016

“There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts.”

— George Matthew Adams, newspaper columnist (1878-1962)

I consider myself an “out of the box” thinker; common sense means that you examine the elements and then you act in the way that best solves your challenge. The best moves are often moves of action rather than reaction. Choice is our best bedfellow.

This past week I watched an inspiring video where “out of the box” thinking led the way; less than 4 minutes in length, it told the story of young people in the Netherlands who live in an elderly complex, for free.

In exchange, the youths agree to spend at least 30 hours each month with the residents of this nursing home, “Humanitas,” based in the Netherlands.

The joy and energy of Jordi Pronk, a local artist, is captivating, as are the interactions between him and his “93-year-old flatmate.” The clip starts with Jordi riding a double bike with his roommate, laughing and sharing life as he pedals her through the streets. This is followed with other inspiring stories showing the importance of connection between the young people and their elderly roommates.

They laugh, they talk, they share the spirit of love that seems extra special when youth and old age come together in the best “win win” way possible. Jordi has a wide smile as he speaks of the residents, many of them women, and shares with the interviewer how much fun they have with him because he is a young male. They flirt with him, they make him laugh, give him slaps on the rear end and he gives them the gift of his time. He becomes the fantasy boyfriend, the son they miss, the grandson who never visits, and helps them fill the void. Jordi is present in a way that feels rare and beautiful.

For Jordi, it is free rent with so much more. It is a learning tree that can come only from sharing time and moments together with a generation with experience, rather than youth, on their side. The young people bring a positive energy that turns conversations away from health and ailments to life lessons through storytelling and the sharing of lives well lived.

This is not a traditional old-age home; it is bright and sunny, not dark and musty. The eating area looks like any high school cafeteria with cliques and groups sitting together and chattering away. The pretty girls at one table, the jocks at another, the nerds, and then the misfits fill out the room. What makes it better is the young people scattered about and the energy created that can only come when one plus one equals three.

Both sides learn from each other; the elders are treated with reverent respect and the youth are cherished. How good is that?

The life lessons come complete with unwanted “good-byes,” usually with lessons attached that only come from on-the-job training in seeing someone one day and then not the next. In this case, the training is mostly about becoming more human, becoming more whole.

Catch this moving video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D_HfS3LvhQ —it is titled: “My 93-year-old Flatmate.”


Last week I also found myself on the other side of the media. I was the story.

The day before closing on the purchase of two prominent Vermont dailies, a competitor wrote a story alleging that there were liens against the newspapers, suggesting that it might affect the sale.

The story’s headline was written to draw in interest, but was misleading. No matter; if it “sells papers,” it is OK, say the cynic newspaper critics.

Yes, there was a lien, but it was on the building owned by the owner of the newspaper; a building that was not part of the purchase and sale.

What is the “slap in the face” is that the media has the responsibility to fully vet a story and make sure the rush to get it online, or in print, does not compromise the accuracy of the information.

When confronted by me, the reporter “stood by his story” and said that he had tried to call me and email me for a comment. He did so at about noontime and posted it about three hours later; I was in meetings and didn’t even see the email until after 3 p.m. Even if I had seen it closer to noon, a few hours might not have been enough time for me to fully vet it.

The media’s job is to report on this, but its responsibility is to get it right. You can’t always get it right, but this seemed sloppy and quickly put together as the sale was nearing.

The other thing I recognize is that it became personal for me when the information was incorrect.

Earlier this year, one of our newspapers reported incorrectly about the shooter in a tragic accident. Our mistake was devastating to the families affected and we tried to make amends.

It is hard to make amends after a story comes out. People simply don’t remember what the correct story is, and what was incorrect. In our case, the information provided us was from a sheriff’s office and we also tried to corroborate it, but were unable to when we called the involved party who was in high stress and in the moment.

The story was timely and we went with what we had, which turned out to be wrong, causing pain and anguish to many. Apologies are all you can do in situations like this; sometimes it is not enough.

My takeaway from this is that staying on your “high horse” is not where I want the weight of my foot when we are on the reporting side of the equation; do your best and say you’re sorry if you are wrong.


P.S. I picked a good week to retire from writing about politics. My choice would have been to comment on Trump’s admittance that “Barry” was indeed born in the USA or to debate whether Clinton fainting because of pneumonia presents a concern on her ability to be our next president. Thanks, but no thanks to those pressing issues. Let’s bring on the real issues and the first debate!


Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com

Disclosure: Reade Brower is owner of these newspapers. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own, and do not represent those of the newspapers, or their editorial boards.

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