Natalie Salmon House

(July 27th, 2015)

I listened for the ever present monsters. Sweating under the blanket - but too afraid to throw it and its safety back - I miserably tried to fall asleep and stay alive. I couldn't even open my eyes. What if I did and there were dead white and hungry eyes staring into mine only inches away. I would be a goner. This little child had an active imagination.

I'm pretty sure I still do. My imagination is active but rarely correct. In fact it's usually way, way off. This applies to most everything I imagine. Most of the things I think will be difficult turn out to be easy. And most everything that I think will run smoothly hit a million tiny snags. I can, for instance, imagine everything about an upcoming date. And within the first minute I will realize I worried and wondered about all the wrong things. Sometimes this is frustrating. Sometimes it is ridiculous. And every so often it leads to wonderful surprises.

Natalie Salmon House
Saturday held one of those very wonderful surprises. Saturday I visited the Natalie Salmon House.

Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.) has multiple residences for low-income seniors in Chicago. One of them is the Nathalie Salmon House. It is a pretty brick building on North Sheridan street. By all accounts it appears to be just another building in the city. But it isn't. It is so much more.

I wonder what my imagination had cooked up. I really didn't know what to expect. I don't think I had a clear picture in my mind. But as soon as I walked in I knew, and knew clearly, that I had not expected what I saw. I guess I expected a residence for seniors to be depressing. Perhaps I thought even a good one, a well run residence, or a cutting edge home must still be somewhat depressing, some what dark, somewhat sad.

It took me the whole visit to realize what I was seeing all around me. That lack of perception would be embarrassing enough. But I have been blogging about H.O.M.E. and their services for months now. I have read and researched and have been telling you all about what they do. And I was blown away seeing it in real life.

Seniors and aspiring senior.
How am I going to tell you what it was like using words when I needed to see it? I don't think I can. I wish I could send you all there. But I don't think I can do that either. Maybe the best I can do is to tell you what I thought as I toured around and met some of the residences: "I could live here." The Natalie Salmon House is a wonderful apartment building with great amenities and excellent access to public transportation.

On the first floor of the building in a common room, next to the gym and the game room (with a pool table), they had organized a little reception for my arrival. Many of the residents had come down to see me (or at least to eat a few of the cookies and veggies). We talked about everything. They wanted to know about me, about running, about my research. I wanted to know how they had found H.O.M.E. It seems everyone had just heard about H.O.M.E. When something this good is going on everyone talks.

One of the more talkative at the party invited a few of the staff and me up to his apartment so that I could see what an apartment  was like. We piled into the elevator and hoped that his wife wouldn't mind an impromptu visit. He opened the door and started speaking in Russian. He and his wife are from Ukraine. They are in their late 80s.  She is tiny. She was in the middle of making borscht. And fortunately, she was glad to see us.

It was a little one bedroom apartment on the third floor. They had lived there for 20 years, I think. The walls were covered in pictures and the apartment was filled with furniture and knickknacks acquired throughout two long lifetimes. She was very excited to hear of my science. She had studied herself. She took me into her bedroom and showed me her class photo. I think it was in pathology (histology?). Then she showed me pictures of her grandson and her great-grandkids. She was very happy at H.O.M.E. It showed.

University of Kiev. Find the happy couple just to the right of the glare! (second row from the top: middle and far right)

Nathalie Salmon House is divided into two parts. The first floors are all private apartments. Some are one bedrooms, some two and a few have three. Everyone lives completely on their own. They can make use of the gym and library and other public spaces, but they don't have too. They come and go as they will. It is just normal housing. On the top floor is the Good Life Senior Residences. These apartments are a bit different. These rooms are for seniors who need a some help meeting their daily needs.

In the Good Life every senior has their own room and they share a bathroom with one other senior. Each day lunch and dinner are cooked and served in the large kitchen on the floor. Breakfast is on their own. At first when I heard this I was mildly worried. How would they eat? Their rooms didn't have sinks or kitchen equipment. But this isn't some lock and key type of place. For breakfast the seniors just go into the kitchen and raid the fridges and use what they want and need. Additionally, this means they can eat when they want. No one likes having a set schedule forced upon them. H.O.M.E wants to maximize seniors independence and self-actualization. One of the staff told of passing through the building late at night and coming across a group of seniors enjoying conversation and coffee at 2am. Little things can make huge differences.

The Good Life: Privacy when you want it. Assistance when you need it.
I guess I didn't understand what H.O.M.E. was doing all along. H.O.M.E. realized there is a missing component to senior care. There are many seniors that are of good health but have very, very little income. (I didn't realize they were trying to make do on so little!) They don't belong in a nursing home as they are not sick or in need of intensive support. But they can not afford to live on their own. At least one person spent time in a shelter before finding HOME.

Many seniors have few options - most not good - when they can no longer afford to live independently. Bruce, the director of H.O.M.E. (and also my uncle) told me that H.O.M.E. seeks to enable seniors to live independently longer. I know I have told you those exact words. I just didn't know how wonderful, how important, how life-giving that is. Home seeks to do this in many ways. At the Nathalie Salmon House they enable seniors to live independently by subsidizing apartments. This isn't some complex idea. But it means the world to a vulnerable population.

This post is getting too long so I will have to wait to tell you of all the other residents, amazing volunteers, and staff, that I met. I'll breeze past all the pretty patios, reading nooks, and tiny details that made the building a home and not an institute. I'll have to skip how they can house seniors at a fraction of the cost of a nursing home. I'll have to try again another day to get across in words how wonderful it is in truth.

I will end by saying that the residents I met are very excited by what we are doing here. They are also incredibly grateful for your donations. So on their behalf I will say "thank you!" I think they want to come watch and support me as I run the marathon. I hope they do. And I hope that you will join me in supporting them. Please donate today! Don't forget to write in "marathon!"

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