BALTIMORE, MD– Surrounding a table of fresh fruit, crackers, cheese, and raspberry lemonade, quiet chatter is exchanged in the heart of the Village Learning Place (VLP) library and community center.
Discussing everything from history to money matters, the group that is gathered socializes before the September session of their monthly meeting begins.
Present, in all their wisdom, are the lively seniors of Baltimore’s Charles Village and surrounding neighborhoods, and this is Senior Tea.
“This is important because the more we come the more we learn and the more we can leave to younger generations,” said Marion Jackson, 70. “We have the time now because we’re retired and we can get together with people in our age group and share ideas.”
The Village Learning Place was originally an Enoch Pratt Free Library Branch of Baltimore until it closed in 1997. Unwilling to let their oasis of knowledge dry up, the leaders and residents of Charles Village pulled together to take back the building, renovate the space, and put programming in place. The building, originally built in 1896, reopened three years later as a non-profit organization for the community.
“We try to serve everyone and it’s important to have something for our community,” said Delores Lee, a librarian at the VLP.
“The senior teas started in 2001 and attendance has increased so it’s something special. Some people know each other and some people don’t,” said Lee. “It’s educational and the seniors have a place to meet each other. It’s a good multi-racial group and we have diverse speakers.”
Each assembly brings in speakers to inform and create much needed dialogue. Last month’s topic was Social Security and what it means for seniors in 2012.
“We cater to our audience,” said Lesley Noll, service coordinator for the VLP for the past three years. “From month to month we poll them to see what their interests are.”
“Our mission is to promote literacy, cultural awareness, and life-long learning. This is a key element to our adult programming and it’s one of our longest running programs.”
Other past subjects have included education on understanding food labels, instruction on nutrition, and intimate interviews with local business owners.
September’s Senior Tea session featured the co-founder and president of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Inc., Dr. Joanne Martin.
Video presentations were made and attendees took time to remember the history, now on display in the museum, as they passed around a real set of metal chains used to shackle the necks and wrists of African slaves during the 1700s.
“In was an honor for me to be invited by the Village Learning Place to speak and be a part of this activity,” said Martin, who began the museum with her late husband, Dr. Elmer Martin in 1983. “To be able to share our history with an audience is always a blessing.”
Aside from Senior Tea days, the VLP also offers programming for children, teens, and young adults. A city-wide afterschool program for elementary and middle school operates out of the space, along with summer reading clubs and GED classes.