Green House Blog

Highlighting THE GREEN HOUSE® Project Team: Meaghan McMahon, Peer Network Project Manager

Some of Meaghan’s warmest childhood memories involve time spent visiting both sets of her grandparents in her hometown of Buffalo, New York.  It is truly where her journey in aging services begins.  She thoroughly enjoyed the time she shared with them and the events they attended together.  In fact, today when Meaghan walks in to an art gallery…she immediately thinks of her grandmother, a teacher, who often took her and her siblings to experience art and other cultural events.

Needless to say Meaghan was most comfortable with Elders and chose to do her high school volunteer work at a nursing home.  It was a very traditional skilled nursing home, and she saw a number of Elders that were not engaged, many were lonely and bored.  She knew they deserved a better environment.  .

It was in Ithaca, New York, as an undergrad  at Cornell University, where Meaghan first heard Dr. Bill Thomas talk about THE GREEN HOUSE® Project, and as they say the “rest is history”.  Meaghan loved the concept and knew she could see herself working to achieve that mission.

After graduating from Cornell, Meaghan entered the Geriatric Scholar program at the University of Michigan, School of Social Work and studied aging in families and society with a focus on public policy and evaluation. While there she interned with The Village of Redford Green House homes in Michigan and Generations United in Washington DC.  Upon receiving her MSW, Meaghan worked for a year as a Policy Analyst for the National PACE Association in Alexandria, VA.

Meaghan is now sharing her skills and knowledge about Elders and culture change in THE GREEN HOUSE ® Project as a Peer Network Project Manager.  In addition to assisting Peer Network members on the website, providing critical resources and assisting with ongoing education and evaluation efforts, Meaghan is the Co-Chair of the newly formed Peer Network Government Relations Committee.

In her leisure time, Meaghan thoroughly enjoys travelling, cooking and baking and spending time with the newest addition to her family- a terrier/basenji mix pup named Lyla.

Creating REAL Home

Home is where I keep all the things that are important to me, where I feel safe and where I can be myself.” Does that definition ring true for you?  It’s how one Shahbaz defined home during a recent Green House Peer Team Network webinar on “Creating Home”.   

Home is definitely a special place for all us, especially for the elders and shahbazim at a Green House home.  As Dr. Bill Thomas explains, “A Green House is a sanctuary for a new kind of elderhood; it is an intentional community for people seeking the worth and meaning in late life.”  But what does that really look and feel like every day?  The webinar provided a plethora of examples, and they all emphasized the importance of really knowing the elders—deep, knowing relationships.

A shahbaz from St. Martin’s in the Pines talked about the elders living with dementia in their home.  “You may not have a lot of conversation with them, but you get to know them in other ways.  When I come by them I rub their back, and they’ve gotten to know that it’s me.  If they want a backrub, they lean forward and I know that’s the sign they want their back rubbed.  They love that—we have an understanding, a relationship.”

Cooking is another very basic component in creating home, one that we all take for granted in our own homes, but one that makes a Green House home so very unique.  All elders can find something special to do in the kitchen, and our shahbaz from St. Martin’s had some ideas.

“The elders living with dementia see and remember the cracking of the eggs, the beating of the eggs, the smell of flavors being used—the mixing of all that.  That seems to bring back good things.”

“Also, the way I do the cooking, we sit around the table, 3 or 4 elders; I put all the dry ingredients in a plastic bag and their job is to mix of all that, turn the bag over and over and mix it all up.  They also love smelling all of the different flavors—they participate in the smelling of the cake when it cooking and they tell me when it’s done by the smell of it!”

As many of you know, The Eden Alternative Principles guide the philosophy and practices at the Green House homes and reciprocity is so important.  It’s the fourth principle: An elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care.  This is the antidote to helplessness. 

The cooking that takes place in the home can be a wonderful way to practice that principle.  The shahbazim at St. Martin’s know that first hand.  “Then we bake, and make two loaves—this is friendship bread that we are baking, and we share with one of the other houses.  This gives the opportunity to share, plus they [elders] eat the other loaf at dinner that night!”

Home is also a place filled with unexpected happenings centered on what the “family” decides to do that day.  An elder on the webinar shared the events of their home and how the rhythm of their house has evolved.  She explained how they had put together a scrapbook of activities the elders enjoyed, including a number of fun pictures.  However, the book had another purpose too, “The main reason was to put the photo and name below” in an effort to help everyone remember names.  “We teach each other, we help each other.  Sometimes it’s as simple as just all watching football.  We share, we laugh, we cry and learn a lot.  The whole idea of this place is to share.  I’ve got something to share with you, and you’ve got something to share with me.  It makes life great!”   

Part of making life great at a Green House home concerns just who makes the decisions.  It’s all about the eighth Eden Alternative Principle: An elder-centered community honors its elders by de-emphasizing top-down bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the elders or into the hands of those closest to them.

It’s certainly in practice in the Village of Redford.  The shahbaz shared a recent meal planning issue, “If we don’t have what they really like, they don’t have to worry about someone saying we can’t make that—we try to make it happen.  We get the elders together and we all agree if they want Chinese food…we take one day out of the week and get what they like.”

The Green House model is designed to embrace many ways to create home, because the definition of home is special and unique to each of us.  The Guide from St. Martin’s expressed her observations of building the intentional Green House community, “They develop their rhythm, their relationships, their family.  One house may be making bread and having tea—or another house has elders listening to music on the porch.  It’s been interesting to watch how that happens, and a real pleasure to be part of how that happens.  They make their own rhythm of the house.  It’s just incredible to watch.”

How we create home with the elders in a Green House can have a real impact on the community too.  The Guide from Jamie’s Place spoke of the change in language and attitudes in her community at large. “We are such a part of the community that when we speak about our elders we teach our community members that they aren’t just old people.  There is growing going on here, there are things they are interested in and we want to be part of the community.  So, there are now people in the community that use the word “elder” instead of “old people” and they are people that don’t have anything to do with the homes directly.  These members of the outside community want to share with us; they bring food, arts, and crafts.  We are so integrated into the community.”  

How incredible is that?  Creating home with elders AND changing the communities’ perception of aging!  Many thanks to all who participated on the Green House Peer Network call.  There were so many great ideas and suggestions. 

Please contact Aja Lawson via email if you have questions about receiving notices for the next webinar, her address is:  alawson@ncbcapitalimpact.org