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Golden girl 

Senior reminds me of the importance of inclusion — and kindness

The other day, after shopping at my neighborhood Food Lion on Beatties Ford Road, I ended up checking out in a line where an elderly woman was having a bit of trouble.

The senior patron was emptying her basket and arranging things onto the conveyer belt in some ritual that made sense to her. When the cashier finally had everything bagged up, our senior diva produced a fist full of coupons. She was most likely on a fixed income — and we can all stand to save wherever possible — but she had coupons that were expired or for things she had not purchased. Every time the cashier made her aware of this, the woman had to inspect her bag to make sure the item truly did not exist.

As she checked out, it seemed the world around her was moving at a rapid pace, yet she remained still, like that scene in a television show where everything speeds up around one element in stasis. But this seasoned diva was not concerned with the hectic world around her — she just wanted to make sure she got credit for her coupon on peach preserves.

As the staff and other folks in line remained patient and helpful, I couldn't help but wonder how long this woman, who was about my grandmother's age, had been a Charlotte resident and how much things have changed around her.

Like most cities, Charlotte participates in various revitalization projects — a commitment to reinvest in historically neglected areas. While it seems very admirable on paper, sometimes revitalization means "out with the old and in with the new." I saw this as a resident of Atlanta, where low-income folks were displaced to make room for urban renewal during preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games.

I recently relocated to west Charlotte, near the Brightwalk neighborhood, a revitalization project on Statesville Avenue. Brightwalk sits on the historic site of the former Double Oaks community, a once 576-home neighborhood, built in 1950.

Brightwalk boasts many exciting developments, but what stands out are special communities like The Gables, an apartment complex and community that houses 133 low-income senior citizens.

Sandra Tate Simpson has lived in west Charlotte for 63 years and recently moved into the Gables.

"I remember when they leveled ... Double Oaks," Simpson said. "It was kind of sad, but I like what they are doing. Things are changing so quickly around here that sometimes I don't recognize the city. But I am glad that there are places like this, where folks like me can come back to the neighborhood."

The driving force behind the Gables is the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a private, nonprofit housing development. President Julie Porter said projects like The Gables are important to include in revitalization projects like Brightwalk so that low- and middle-income residents remain in the neighborhood.

"It is often difficult for seniors to remain in houses that have access barriers, and there is risk, because of lack of transportation, they will become cut off from needed services as well as family and friends," Porter told me. "For low-income seniors, the upkeep of houses and utility costs can be tremendous burdens. It is therefore important, in neighborhoods with high percentage of aging population, to have high-quality affordable housing and access to needed services. It helps stabilize neighborhoods and allows seniors to stay in their community of choice as they grow older. "

The women in the checkout line reminded me of the importance of inclusion — and kindness.

After clearing up the coupon issue, the seasoned diva realized she did not have enough money to pay her tab and that she would have to go to her car and get some more cash from her husband.

After I scanned a few gossip rags in line, our seasoned diva finally returned, extra cash in hand. She paid her bill and began to leave, but not before the cashier realized she had left a bag behind. Another patron promptly scrambled out the door to deliver it to her.

The elderly couple was just finishing putting the groceries away in the car when I was leaving. Her husband, an obvious gentleman, helped her get into the car, and I offered to take the basket from him and return it to the bin. It was nice to see these two senior residents being independent, but my hope is that more housing options, like The Gables, pop up around revitalized areas in Charlotte.

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