As the “graying” of America continues, it is becoming increasingly important to honor our elderly because many of these people outlive their friends and oftentimes find their families spread across the country, thus finding themselves very much alone. So what choices do they have? Well, the living choices for the elderly are many, yet varied: independent living, assisted living residences, range-of-care facilities, and nursing homes.
One such elderly choice is right here in Mobile nestled just off Government Street: Murray House, a residence home and agency of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. The Rev. Ken Cumbie serves as the head of its board of directors and helps oversee its operations. Just last year, Fr. Cumbie discovered a program developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Age Lab. The program is entitled OMEGA, an acronym for Opportunities for Multigenerational Education and Growth and Action.
Coincidentally, Bayside Academy, an independent school in Daphne, Alabama, creates a Great Day of Service each year to expose its students to the value of service. For the last two years, one of the Great Day of Service focus areas has been the elderly. When Fr. Cumbie found out what Bayside was doing with the elderly through its Great Day of Service, he reached out to Steve Marine, the school’s Dean of Students, to recommend becoming a part of the Omega project’s initiative and participate in activities that would partner Bayside’s youth with residents at Murray House. The initial visit last spring was so successful that several of Bayside’s students who had participated wanted to continue with these relationships this year.
To that end, some of Bayside’s students (three seniors) came back to Murray House on October 5, 2019, to share with two of Murray House’s residents: Mr. Jimmy Williams and Mrs. Mary Jane Barrow. Both of these residents had graduated from Murphy High School (in late 1940s and mid-1950s, respectively) and were excited to share memories of what they remember about those special days and to hear about how high school has changed since their time in school. Ivy Fellers visited exclusively with Mr. Jimmy (as he is affectionately called) and Tori Roush visited exclusively with Mrs. Mary Jane Barrow. John McEniry went back and forth with the residents and captured some special pictures.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Jimmy, who had graduated in 1949, mentioned that his favorite teacher was an English teacher who refused to have her students sit in rows; rather, she would put the students in a circle and conduct “Socratic-type” seminars whereby all the students would engage in asking challenging questions of their teacher and fellow students—as Mr. Jimmy said, “She could get all students involved in the discussion.” Mrs. Barrow fondly remembers square dancing in the cafeteria and even suggested to Fr. Cumbie that those at Murray House might try to have a square dance for its residents. The Bayside students also shared stories of Homecoming activities, club involvement, and technological changes.
At the end of the visit, both students and residents thanked each other for spending such special time sharing their lives and their respective high school memories.
Article Co-Authored: Father Ken Cumbie and Steve Marine (Dean of Students at Bayside Academy)