Humanitarians at Home
Givens Estates residents are the most dynamic and interesting people we know. While their interests and passions are varied, a desire to serve others and their community has always been a shared value amongst residents. Please enjoy this guest post written by resident Bill Lowrey sharing his perspective and commitment to giving back to his community.
Retirement had a particular meaning for my wife and me as we set out on our journey of discerning where we would locate. Retirement, for us, meant saying “yes” to the things we feel called to and love to do, and saying “no” to those things we no longer wish to fill our days. For both of us, it meant no longer serving on committees, managing large projects or letting busyness overwhelm our lives. And it also meant finding ways to be involved directly in service to others and working for systemic change for justice, especially related to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the incarcerated, and those who had have been impacted by racism and systemic inequities or hatred.
For years we had served as clergy. Alice was in parish ministry in the USA, and I had worked internationally as a peacemaker with a focus on tribal conflicts and humanitarian assistance and development. We married in 2010 after my first wife had died of Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Alice had been convinced by me to exchange her 66 years of singleness for a late adventure into marriage and shared retirement.
So, for us, we wanted a city where we could become involved, a retirement community that honored and supported community engagement. We searched for an environment of beauty and opportunity for enjoying nature, mountain trails, river walks, golf, and new friendships. The Appalachian Mountains, Asheville and Buncombe County, and Givens Estates all came together as the winning combination for us.
Soon after our arrival in Asheville, we discovered the Asheville Poverty Initiative and their newest effort called 12 Baskets Café. It was named for the 12 baskets of food left over after the feeding of five thousand from a few loaves and fish in the Jesus story in the Bible. The concept in Asheville was to ask restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and others to share their good left-over food, rather than throwing it out. Why discard good food when it could be used to feed the homeless and low resource members of our community? It worked, right from the beginning, soon feeding more than a hundred people daily.
I appealed to Givens to join this effort and channel the left-over food from our dining service to 12 Baskets. There was immediate interest from dining staff and management. Up until that time the left-over food had been discarded through a recycle service. Once all the liability issues were resolved and the contracts were signed, Givens was on-board. Now, dining staff organizes food that can’t be used each week, freezing or packaging or boxing all that can be donated. Each Friday, for more than three years now, my wife and I pick up the food from dining and transport it to 12 Baskets which now has an excellent system of freezer storage, steam tables for hot meals, and volunteers for serving. During this pandemic, 12 Baskets has had to shift to free take-out meals rather than sit-down and dine-in communal meals.
Here at Givens Estates, we have also had to change so that our meals are now provided as home delivery to our residents, and many of those meals are delivered to us in top-quality paper bags with handles. Residents hated the idea of those good bags being thrown out. So now, many residents and buildings collect their bags, provide them to us for delivery, and we take them with the food to 12 Baskets. That has made it possible for people in need to carry out multiple meals to wherever they stay. Sometimes I think there is as much excitement about the bags we provide as the food that is donated.
Over these few years, Alice and I have found our niches for active engagement. Givens is our platform or home-base from which we work with a community that surrounds us and supports one another. Alice has found ways to volunteer and mentor women in the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women. I have found a key role in a major initiative of Buncombe County to try to reform the criminal justice system, address racial inequities, and safely reduce the prison population. The County obtained a $1.75 million-dollar grant from the MacArthur Foundation. During the past two years and the current pandemic, Buncombe has been able to safely reduce the jail population in our County by 40%. Hopefully, the grant will be extended for another two years as we work to revise how cases are processed, justice is administered more equitably, community policing is improved, violence is addressed, the school to prison pipeline is addressed, and those returning to the community from prison are able to re-engage as productive citizens.
At Givens, there is a strong effort to facilitate volunteer opportunities for all residents who wish to be involved in the community. Partnerships are in place, needs are communicated, and many residents are engaged sharing their time, their skills, and their accumulated wisdom as active retirees.
Alice and I are so thankful that we found Givens Estates as the place where we could retire and the platform from which we can continue to serve alongside so many others.