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Spotlight on Nonprofits in Kalamazoo County

April 15, 2011

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”


Pictured: (L-R) Connie Patterson, Robert Patterson, Martha Austin, Janet Loucks
Photo: Oakwood Neighborhood Association

On any given Wednesday afternoon Gail Camp may be found inside the Oakwood Neighborhood Center munching on cookies and catching up with her cronies over a friendly game of cards.

Camp, 62, is part of a group which has no official name or by-laws other than to be there for each other as much as time and good health permits. This group of senior Oakwood residents is symbolic of the close-knit nature of a neighborhood which is home to multi-generational families, many of whom never left.

“I was born and raised in Oakwood,” said Camp who is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for esophageal cancer. “It’s good for me to be here. I enjoy myself with them because they’re always happy.”

The neighborhood’s Senior Drop-In program is located in the Oakwood Neighborhood Association Center off of Laird Street.  The 2,288-square-foot building is divided into an office area, a community room, and the Family Resource Center which is where the seniors meet each week.

“That’s how we’ve been able to maintain our programming and services at such a low cost. All of the programming is done through donations and grants. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

—Cheryl Lord, Oakwood Neighborhood Association

Cheryl Lord, executive director of the ONA, said the community room is available to be rented out for events and also serves as the location for workshops. She said the Family Resource Center is used for programs and services which include afterschool tutoring for the neighborhood’s young people and has computers available for employment assistance.

Funding for the ongoing operation of the many programs offered at the neighborhood center is always an issue, but Lord said grant money, fundraisers and volunteers help to offset the cost of many of the services offered. In addition, she said the City of Kalamazoo provides some funding to cover general operating expense.

“The volunteers are certainly key because everything is run through them,” Lord said. “They do the cleaning, repairs and upkeep of the neighborhood center. They also sort through the food in the food bank.

“That’s how we’ve been able to maintain our programming and services at such a low cost. All of the programming is done through donations and grants. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

The Oakwood Neighborhood Association was founded in 1947 by a group of residents who wanted to offer activities for the neighborhood’s young people. Although the ONA still offers youth-oriented programs and services, Lord said there was a realization that Oakwood’s senior residents needed a support system.

The Senior Drop-In gatherings are also open to seniors who don’t live in the neighborhood and family and friends of those who do.

But to hear the group gathered for a recent Wednesday card game tell it, their support of one another transcends their standing weekly meeting.

“We have neighbors who shovel for us and plow our driveway because we can’t physically do it ourselves,” said Connie Patterson who was accompanied by her husband, Robert.

Robert Patterson said he finds a way to give back by making necklaces, earrings and bracelets which are used as prizes during the group’s Bingo games.

In addition to helping each other, members of the group said they also look out for each other.

Camp said she walks around the neighborhood four or five times each day and listens to a police scanner which is always on inside her home.

Janet Loucks, 69, who serves as the group’s activities director, recounted an episode which really let her know how closely her neighbors watch over her.

“One day a friend and I had gone out to lunch. I must have been in a hurry because I didn’t lock the door,” Loucks said. “My neighbors saw that my van was gone and when one of them went to the front door and realized it was unlocked she was panic-stricken that something had happened to me.”

In an age where technology has made it easier to shut the world out, members of the Senior Drop-In group said they value the time they are able to spend with each other discussing happenings in the neighborhood or sharing information and advice.

“We have people who just come and talk,” said Ruth Olmsted.

While nobody knows who’s going to bring the treats and who’s going to show up, Loucks said she knows what would likely happen if she and her friends didn’t have a place to gather.

“I’d probably be sitting at home in an easy chair taking a nap,” she said.

By Jane C. Parikh


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