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Derenda Schubert joins in the action at Bridge Meadows.

In the light-filled lobby of Bridge Meadows, an innovative Portland housing community that mingles foster children, adoptive parents, and senior citizens, executive director Derenda Schubert nods vehemently. One of the complex’s elderly residents, Mike, is telling her he thinks there’s a way to feature more of the residents’ art—if they just expand to the hall upstairs. He would even pay for the frames himself. Another elder walks up and joins the conversation for a bit on her way to the elevator, and then Mike lumbers away.

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The passing chatter and shared ideas are no accident. Bridge Meadows, which opened in North Portland’s Portsmouth neighborhood in 2011, was designed to create “a big family,” as Schubert calls it. Everything from the weekly “happiness hour” to community volunteering to the way the family homes and elder apartments are interspersed lends itself to social connection between people of different generations.

“This is about permanency and purpose,” Schubert says.

The big idea is that intentional community can foster healing for vulnerable populations. Elders tutor and mentor children; children prevent social isolation for elders. The North Portland campus is home to 69 children, adults, and seniors. Since it opened, 100 percent of Bridge Meadows youth have remained with the same caregiver and attended the same school. Compared to the approximately five moves made by the average child in the foster care system, that permanency has led to improved academic performance for 73 percent of Bridge Meadows youth and a reduction in mental health issues for 63 percent of youth.

“When I found out about this place, I thought, ‘There’s the answer,’” Schubert says. “I’ve never seen children heal so quickly.” 

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