“I have faint memories, as I would walk through the Y to the day’s activity, of seeing doors open to rooms where older men were talking. It couldn’t possibly have entered my mind then that 60+ years later I’d be like those men, seeking companionship for an hour or two.”
This week, we’d like to share a very special letter from Friendly House volunteer and program participant, Jerry Harris. Jerry first became involved in Friendly House programs in the fall of 2019, when he began attending SAGE socials with his partner Rick. Jerry’s story of finding community at Friendly House is a heartwarming and inspiring reminder about the power and importance of community organizations and philanthropy, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
“Born in 1948, I grew up with my parents and two older brothers in a one-bedroom apartment. Things were tight in terms of both spatial and economic comfort. We lived in an apartment building in the Bronx, New York City, where several other families on our floor were just as crowded, but we kids didn’t realize how much so.
The local “Y” (YM-YWHA, Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association) provided my brothers and me with a home away from home. There were structured “clubs” where we did arts & crafts, played outdoor games in the fenced-in rooftop recreation area, and board games in the “games room”. We swam in the indoor pool. During the summer, the day camp bussed us to campgrounds outside the city.
It was only when I was well into my adult years that I learned from my mother that we were “scholarship” children. We never could have done all these things without our fees being subsidized by the Y. And for my mother, knowing we were in a safe and friendly environment, she was able to work at least part time while my father had 10-hour workdays (13 including his subway ride to and from work).
A lifetime later, after moving to Portland, while seeking to get involved in activities for gay seniors, I found SAGE at Friendly House. I now attend the weekly LGBTQ seniors social as well as a Gay & Grey support group. Besides attending these groups, I have also volunteered as a co-facilitator in monthly Conversations on Aging co-sponsored by Friendly House and the VIEWS program of Cascadia Behavioral Health.
From reading the newsletter and after one or two visits (later ones, because of Covid, had to be via Zoom), I gradually learned that Friendly House is very much the same as the place where I grew up. Ironically, I have faint memories, as I would walk through the Y to the day’s activity, of seeing doors open to rooms where older men were talking. It couldn’t possibly have entered my mind then that 60+ years later I’d be like those men, seeking companionship for an hour or two. A different time, a different place, a different community. Pre-schoolers, after-schoolers, families and seniors, all share Friendly House just as others did in the Y of my childhood. Both are friendly houses.
As a senior, I am now able to pay back the scholarship funds I benefitted from as a child, by my monthly donation to Friendly House. And, as a senior, I continue to benefit. I hope you will join me, as best you can, by contributing to our community both by your participation and, if possible, financial donations.”
A huge thank you to Jerry for sharing his story and being a part of this project!
If there is someone whose story you would like to hear or if you would like to share your Friendly House story, please reach out to us by emailing email@example.com.