Diaspora

Bringing Together Orphans and Seniors Without Family Under One Roof – The Epoch Times

When one hears the word “orphan,” it’s easy to conjure up images of characters from Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” or the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” All children living “the hard-knock life.”
But what about senior citizens who have no family?
Stacy Shewey has come up with the idea of having both groups live in an assisted community together, where the old can impart their wisdom to the young.
Shewey was an executive director for an assisted living facility in Jacksonville, Florida. “Hated that job. It was the worst job,” she told The Epoch Times.
“They were all about the bottom line.”
After she resigned, a friend told her that he was very connected and could find her a job pretty much anywhere she wanted. She said to him: “I don’t want just any job. I want a job where I am making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis.”
Shewey calls the increasing number of elderly who have no one to care for them an “aging crisis,” particularly in developing countries.
“Right now, 60 percent of the world’s elderly live in developing nations,” she said. “By 2050, it will be up to 80 percent.”
She and her family had been missionaries in Haiti and had witnessed true poverty firsthand. Now, Shewey feels that there are enough charities and programs in the United States to help the elderly there, so she’s decided to take her charity to poor countries. Additionally, she feels that there are plenty of charities to help the children in these countries, but none for the elderly.
Shewey was raised in what she calls “an intergenerational home,” with her grandparents living downstairs. Her grandmother was born in 1910, so Shewey heard her stories from the Great Depression.
“Their stories of the past influenced who I am today,” she said. “From a young age, I learned the importance of that relationship.”
In 2019, Shewey, along with Mehgan Fox, founded Hands 4Life, with the intention of bringing orphaned children and family-less seniors together in one facility.
As a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it has a board of directors, a treasurer, and a secretary.
A few years ago, Hands 4Life partnered with a church in the United States that owns property in Honduras. Hands 4Life is now leasing this property and is repurposing the buildings. One of the buildings will be a “career workshop,” where the seniors can teach the children a trade such as woodworking, jewelry-making, and metalworking. Additionally, the organization is building a new dormitory.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for Sept. 19, and the target for completion is one year—although, that’s dependent on fundraising.
Hands 4Life has an architectural firm, an interior design firm, and a construction company (all in the United States) that are donating their services to the construction and renovation of the buildings.
Pastor Ruben Rodriguez runs House of Mercy, an orphanage and church in Honduras that houses eight orphans aged 6 to 17. There’s also one elderly woman who lives at the church.
House of Mercy and Hands 4Life have partnered in the development of the campus.
Rev. Theodore Ihenetu was born and raised in Nigeria and ordained as a Catholic priest in 2015. Currently, he’s the executive director of operations of Hands 4Life Nigeria. And he just loves old people.
“Oh, so very much! So very much!” he told The Epoch Times in a video call from Nigeria.
In partnership with Hands 4Life, Ihenetu ministers to lonely seniors and orphaned children. In addition to this, he works at a facility for elderly and retired priests.
Ihenetu refers to the pairing of orphaned children with seniors as “a new community of life.”
He said that Nigerian society traditionally treats the elderly with reverence.
“The love and respect for older persons is a sacred duty,” he said.
But in more modern times, he says, the youth of the nation “look at older adults as a leftover generation.”
Ihenetu hopes that Hands 4Life will counteract this.
The pairing of the two groups in Nigeria has begun through community outreach, but the actual facility where they’ll live hasn’t been built yet.
The Nigerian campus is Hands 4Life’s latest project, and Shewey estimates that it will take about three years to complete.
Shewey has high hopes for the futures of the orphans in her care.
“We’re rewriting their narrative,” she said. “Instead of being kicked out of an orphanage at 18—that’s when the human traffickers are waiting for them and that’s when the gangs are waiting for them—we are raising them as our own children.”
This may include sending them to college.
Shewey knows that just building more orphanages isn’t really solving the problem. The charity’s goal is to open a new campus in a different developing nation every three years. Ultimately, her aim is “empowering the people to take care of their own.”

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