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In honor of November’s designation as National Family Caregiver Month, the UNC Partnerships in Aging recognizes the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History (MCJC) in Chapel Hill, NC, for their soulful approach to eldercare, grounded firmly in their overall mission:

To honor, renew, and build community in the historic Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods of Chapel Hill, NC

Currently referred to primarily as “Northside”, the geographic area that MCJC serves was historically a combination of neighborhoods adjacent to one another – Pottersfield, Pine Knolls, Sunset, Lloyd/Broad, and Tin Top – neighborhoods that were home to many people, primarily African-American,  who worked in the service sector for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and nearby industries. Their website (https://jacksoncenter.info/) is a treasure trove of the history of civil rights and neighborhood changes to which residents of these areas have borne witness for well over a century. With this writing, we celebrate that MCJC, in its mission to honor, renew and build community, embraces their oldest neighbors, both living and departed, as civic treasures, historical vessels, and leaders of the mission.

We made the case in our first blog post of this month that caring and caregiving are based in relationship and nowhere is that more evident than in the work carried out by MCJC. This is not a place where community elders wait passively in their homes for a visit or assistance with some task. Those things happen, but the visits are as much lessons for the younger visitors as assistance for the older hosts; older neighbors are also the members of community teams that lead housing justice, food security, civil rights education, and the preservation and representation of neighborhood history.

One of the challenges facing Northside in the last few decades has been the inability of long-time neighbors to maintain and pass on their homes in the context of increasingly aggressive real estate developers building multi-unit student housing. To preserve the ability for older residents to maintain their homes and black land ownership,  MCJC has worked collaboratively to develop programs to provide critical home repairs, property tax assistance, estate planning workshops and strategies, and support older residents’ ability to age in community. In the last five years alone, neighborhood leadership married with Jackson Center grit has saved over 40 properties from becoming student rental investments.

Beyond the focus on tangible housing, MCJC, in collaboration with the UNC Partnerships in Aging Program (PiAP), is also building a figurative home for services and programs in Northside that sustain community elders. Embracing a No Wrong Door model (see Figure 1), MCJC has formed an ElderPower team consisting of liaisons to various community initiatives. This ensures that wherever and whenever an older resident of Northside connects with someone, that relationship connects them to other service options and programmatic opportunities as well. Examples of these include Wellness Walks, food box and hot meal deliveries, and a Community Mentoring team in which elders pass on the history of the neighborhood to youth.

Figure 1. The No Wrong Door model of accessing services and programs at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center (@JW2020)

Two of the newer initiatives linking generations in the Northside community also serve to carry out the mission of MCJC: The Northside Residential Fellowship (NRF) and the LINK project. Shepherded by the PiAP leadership team, these initiatives connect students at UNC-Chapel Hill with Northside elders in multiple ways. Graduate students in the NRF live together in a living-learning household that is managed by MCJC and engage in work focused on health equity, aging, and social justice. They form deep relationships with the elders on their block and are embodying the cultural norms of the Northside community. LINK students function in partnership with the NRF, but come in and out of Northside as visitors within the homes of neighborhood elders, where they focus on mutual social support and growth.

The word abundant is frequently associated with the Northside community. What is clear from seeing how the Marian Cheek Jackson Center connects with neighbors in this community – particularly those whose years in the neighborhood grant them the status of elder – is that the abundance multiples in caring for and with one another. We salute MCJC and the Northside neighborhood as an exemplar of wAGING change in this month of honoring caregiving,

©2020 WomackJL Professor: Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Department of Allied Health Sciences, UNC-Chapel Hill

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