By Ann Scharff and Friends
Last year we entered into our forty-ninth year—our seventh seven-year period of the Fellowship Community, a dynamic, work-based, intergenerational community founded on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. Our mission is “to care for the elderly and to nurture the body, soul, and spirit within the human being during all phases of life; to create a social process worthy of our common humanity; and to be responsible for the care of the earth upon which we live.”
This intention includes:
Human-centered long-term care for the elderly
Therapeutic and medical aspects and services that meet individual needs
Meaningful and fulfilling work in service
Working together for the renewal of social, economic, and cultural life
Providing a model for human-centered care that can be significant for the general society
This statement reflects the effort over the years to work for the creation of new social forms in relation to our life and work. It also places into written form the intentions of the past fifty years to bring the threefold impulse (among other things) given by Rudolf Steiner into our daily lives.
Looking forward now to the future and the next fifty years, which is created anew every moment, every day, we will continue striving to unfold this impulse. The following excerpts from those sharing will give glimpses of the results of this effort. —Ann Scharff, co-founder of the Fellowship Community
A Co-Worker’s View
Being a fellowship co-worker is not for everyone; living in community can be challenging. Deciding to experience life outside the box is a leap of faith. Who are the people that live here? We have our members (the elders) and our co-workers who care for them. Together we grow our own food, run a dairy and chicken house, cook, bake, clean, study, and share meals. It is a life of service.
“Never a dull moment” is how I describe my life. A house of mirrors; a wake-up call. Days are unpredictable, changing directions; sparks fly, and magic happens. Being a Fellowship co-worker is definitely for me. —Rachel Berman, co-worker for eight years
A Member’s View
At the Fellowship Community there are many of the activities one finds in most retirement and eldercare settings, but here there are also things that are not so common or available elsewhere. We are enriched by our relationships; the community is small enough that we feel part of one society, one humanity. Visiting co-workers come from all over the world, for months or years. Most unique is the attitude everywhere of egalitarianism: every one of the co-workers does every sort of job, from caring for someone who can no longer manage, to preparing, serving, and cleaning up after each meal. There is always work to be done, and all of us are welcome to help.
Among the special joys here is the presence of children: their voices, their laughter, their playfulness. We enjoy reading with them, answering their questions, watching them grow (all without any of the responsibilities)! Our biodynamically grown crops, chickens, and cows provide most of our delicious food. And there are chores, from seed planting to preparing the harvests for storage for the rest of the year.
There is a deep feeling of security. When we need help of any kind, it is available; we care for each other’s wellbeing, noticing how we’re feeling, so that a deep camaraderie prevails. One great rarity here is boredom. There are always things to do and kindred spirits to meet, and always the simplicity of enjoying the natural beauty surrounding us.
—Rica Rock, member for two and a half years
Co-Worker, Family of Members
I’ve been a co-worker at the Fellowship Community and at times have worked on a volunteer basis. Becoming a part of the Fellowship was a turning point in my life and I have always been grateful for this: grateful for the opportunity to see all stages of life; to meet so many different people; to learn to nurse (or as we say here “to care”); to share intimacies. It’s been a family affair. My husband Kevin has been a volunteer and our daughter Leigh has been a co-worker. It has brought both of them much joy.
Kevin’s mother Rosalyn spent the last nine years of her life here as a member. Rosalyn was a character, and the Fellowship children delighted in her! When she was dying many came in to say goodbye—just part of the life here.
My mother, Ruth, ninety-seven, and a member now for three years, has flourished. Nourished by the many daily human encounters life here makes possible, she feels part of something larger, this extended family that is the Fellowship Community. —Carol O’Brien, volunteer, co-worker, family of a member, donor
What makes the Fellowship for us? It is distinguishable in a very short time. In one afternoon. Imagine a part of our young group of seven volunteers filling up the kitchen. Two of us are cooking, one is preparing the special meals, one is cleaning up the snack, and another one steps in once in a while pushing a wheelchair in front of him, and lets a member enjoy a visit in the kitchen. There is a certain feeling to it, a feeling that is quite comparable to the feeling of being home. Experiencing all the craziness and joy that are present in a day, as well as the domestic aspect of it. Although you are preparing a meal for about sixty people, there is no pressure or cold business behind it. You are cooking for people you have come to know. You are cooking for people that you have taken to your heart. It feels like a big family. —Wuna and Jonas, German interns, 2015-2016
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991, and by 1995 I could just barely walk. I had lived nearby on Hungry Hollow Road for about thirty years and was familiar with the Fellowship Community. It was clear that the only place I would be happy living, other than in my own home, was at the Fellowship in Hilltop House. I was ready, applied, and was fortunate enough to be accepted in a few months.
All my expectations have been met and more. To try to list all the wonderful benefits would be very difficult. The most important is the nice people that are here, both the ones giving and those receiving care. The Fellowship co-workers care both with compassion and respect, allowing members to maintain dignity. Especially wonderful is living not only with older members, but also younger co-workers, who are here not for the money, but for the experience and for the reward of caring for people like myself. This is an unfindable benefit. Additionally, it is such a blessing to have their little children around us! They bring life and add atmosphere and it wouldn't be the same without them.
A Grace is always said before the meals. A Grace written by a Member now 102 years old touched me and is the essence of my feelings: “Lord thank you for this loving place, for the hands that help, for the hearts that care, for the good we have, for the food we share, and for the chance to live and die with Grace.” —Gil Gordon, member, eleven years
The Little Room Downstairs
Nestled downstairs among the maintenance/paint room, a broom closet, and a public bathroom is the Sewing Room, manned and active on Thursday mornings, but otherwise quiet and closed. Appreciated by those who know her but unknown to many, she is always ready to take requests for mending, alterations, curtain/upholstery projects, and so forth, and so on.
If you can think of something beloved and past its prime but repairable, a window that needs a new curtain, a button that’s loose, or a pair of too-long slacks, the Sewing Room is there for you. For those who can’t make it downstairs, look for Pat on Thursdays at 10:30 am break or at lunch. —Pat, volunteer, seven years
Paula and I started volunteering at the Fellowship Community in 1995. We found out about the Fellowship when we went to pick up our daughter Melissa, who was being transported to the Fellowship from Triform Camphill Village in New York State where she had been living. We then became interested in the Fellowship as a possible destination in our old age. Twenty years later we are still interested!! Now being 81 and 85 years old.
We have worked at the Fellowship Community on Friday mornings for twenty-one years. We drive about an hour from our home in New Jersey and get to the Fellowship at about 7:30 am.
What we like about the Fellowship Community:
- It is intergenerational.
- The community attracts people with whom we feel comfortable.
- There is always a job to do that the members, no matter their capabilities, can perform and feel needed. Someday we hope to live, work, and spend our last days there.
—Paula and Mark Fine, volunteers, twenty-one years
I have been blessed with the opportunity to use my skills as an experienced Dairyman. And not only that, but I also can use my other skills and talents for a loving and encouraging Community. There has been no place doing dairy in this way, that I know of, since a long time ago…they’ve all but died out. Duryea Farm at the Fellowship is a gem for our area and we are pioneers, bringing back unprocessed milk to the world. The community members are very lucky to have that.
—Joel Franklin, co-worker, dairyman
The Fellowship Community, founded in 1966, is a multigenerational community located on eighty acres in Chestnut Ridge, New York. The community is composed of about sixty to seventy members who are elders, and about fifty to sixty co-workers and their families who live at the Fellowship Community or nearby. Volunteers and interns come from far and wide to help with day-to-day operations. The Fellowship Community is part of a larger anthroposophic community on about 200 acres, which includes many organizations such as The Threefold Educational Foundation, Green Meadow Waldorf School, Sunbridge Institute, Eurythmy Spring Valley, The Fibercraft Studio, The Pfeiffer Center, The Otto Specht School, Hungry Hollow Coop, Meadowlark Bookstore, and many more. www.fellowshipcommunity.org