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Flora Shukis, left, Mary Hill and Carolyn Williams play cards at Heartland Family Service’s Generations Center in Omaha with teens from a juvenile crisis center on the same campus.

Social services campus in Omaha brings together seniors, youth

The game is called manipulation.

"The object … is to use up all of the cards in your hand; once you do you win," Mary Hill, 69, explains to the 14-year-old boy sitting across from her in a center for senior citizens at the former St. Richard Parish and School near 43rd and Fort streets in Omaha.

And with that the teen – from the juvenile crisis center on the same campus – looks at the two cards remaining in his hand, finds the matching cards on the table and lays down his cards, grinning from ear to ear.

The card game is just one of many interactions officials with Holy Name Housing Corp. and Heartland Family Service were hoping would become a common occurrence when they opened the $22 million North Omaha Intergenerational Campus for Human Services last summer.

Bringing youth from the Youth Links program and the seniors together in the Generations Center is a win-win, said Donna Dostal, chief development officer for Heartland Family Service.

"Everything we do at the Generations Center is to help seniors age gracefully and it’s just amazing to see them interact with the youths, you just see the kids open up," Dostal said.

"They are really nice kids once you get to know them," said Flora Shukis, 88, one of the card players and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha.

Heartland Family Service also provides a shuttle service for seniors such as Shukis, who went to the senior center when it was located near 42nd and Center streets.

The former St. Richard school, church and rectory closed in 2009, and in support of the social services project, the Archdiocese of Omaha transferred the property to Holy Name Housing in 2010.

Holy Name Housing’s offices are on the top floor of the former rectory, and a health center – the Charles Drew Health Center – is on the lower level. Heartland Family Service operates the crisis center for youth ages 10-18 on the upper level of the former school and church, and the Generations Center for senior citizens on the lower level.

"We wanted to make a strong investment in the area," Dostal said. "It’s already proven to be very successful and the entire campus has been embraced by the surrounding community."

And serving the community was a primary driver for the project, said Mike Gawley, executive director of Holy Name Housing, which – on the campus’ west side – operates 44 energy-efficient and handicapped-accessible cottages for low-income senior citizens.

Public and private funding made the campus a reality, Gawley said, with the goal of continuing the mission of Holy Name Housing, which for three decades has focused on providing low-income housing. All of the cottages are full and there is a waiting list.

Services provided by Heartland Family Service and Charles Drew are a bonus, he said.

The campus also has a large community garden and a playground. Both are open to anyone from the campus or surrounding neighborhood to enjoy.

Hill, who lives just three blocks from the campus, said she began coming to the Generations Center as soon as she learned of its activities and services.

She especially likes interacting with the youth.

"They feel like my extended family," said Hill, who has 18 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

It’s important to be able to sit down with a child and pass on your wisdom, your knowledge and help them be a better person, Hill said.

Generations center

The Generations Center is on the lower level of the former St. Richard Church and School at 4318 Fort St.

Activities include bingo, card games, meals, holiday parties and craft groups.

Seniors can join at no cost and transportation is provided Monday through Friday for 50 cents per ride.

Lunch is served at noon and costs $3.50 for seniors over the age of 60 and $9.25 for seniors younger than 60.

For more information about the intergenerational campus, call Heartland Family Service at 402-552-7480 or Holy Name Housing Corp. at 402-453-6100.

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