New Book Tells Story of Imperial Hotel’s 16-day Occupation

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On June 18, 1990 a group called People for Urban Justice broke into the abandoned Imperial Hotel to hang a sign that said “House the Homeless Here!” The event turned into a 16-day occupation that raised awareness to the plight of Atlanta’s homeless.

 

By LANCE CRANMER                                                               lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

ATLANTA – The banner read, “House the Homeless Here!”

It was a simple act of civil disobedience, meant to draw attention to Atlanta’s lack of housing for the homeless, that turned into a 16-day occupation launching a decades-long movement in Georgia’s capital city.

“Atlanta was razing buildings for sports stadiums and parking lots. Funding was going for glamorous projects instead of affordable housing,” said Terry Easton, author of the new book Raising Our Voices, Breaking the Chain, which chronicles the events surrounding the Imperial Hotel occupation that began on June 18, 1990. “This group, we call them the ‘Imperial Eight,’ they were trying to bring attention to this.”

The eight activists were from a group called People for Urban Justice (PUJ). It was part of a larger organization called Open Door Community, which provided services for the poor and homeless in Atlanta.

“They were trying to bring attention to the lack of affordable housing in Atlanta,” Easton said. “At the time there were an estimated 10,000 homeless people in the city.”

The Imperial Eight broke in to the then-abandoned century-old Imperial Hotel and hung their banner from two of the building’s highest windows in an attempt to draw attention from the media and the mayor’s office.

Today, now known at National Church Residences Commons at Imperial Hotel, the building is a permanent supportive housing site that provides housing for 90 formerly homeless residents of Atlanta.

“I think it’s really wonderful that out of this act of courage and bravery, for these folks to go in and occupy the hotel and actually get something out of it, it’s wonderful,” said Easton. “I think it’s a good lesson for people that sometimes it’s worth the cost.”

To celebrate the release of Raising Our Voices, Breaking the Chain, Easton and two members of the Imperial Eight, Eduard Loring and Murphy Davis, will make an appearance at Commons at Imperial Hotel on Saturday, December 10 from noon to 2 p.m. for a book signing, stories about the occupation and a tour of the beautifully renovated facility.

“(The book) is an authentic, powerful, moving retelling of an epic time in the history of Atlanta when the issue of homelessness was taken to another level because homeless activists and advocates said, ‘enough is enough,’ and occupied the Imperial Hotel,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald III, Pastor at the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “This occupation caused the city fathers and business community to rethink how it addressed the issue of homelessness, and, if only for a season, housing the homeless and affordable housing was on the lips of the powerful.”

By the end of the 16-day occupation nearly 300 homeless people had entered the vacant building alongside the activists, and Open Door Community had moved its morning breakfast service inside the hotel.

“Once they were all inside the activists were very clear that they wanted the homeless people to have a voice. The homeless people formed a leadership group and they called themselves the Executive Committee,” Easton said. “They’re the ones that went to the negotiating table at the end of the occupation and negotiated with the City of Atlanta.”

Mayor Maynard Jackson met with the Executive Committee and the members of PUJ to discuss what needed to be done to help the homeless in the community.

“It really forced the mayor and his staff to do something about it,” said Easton. “What PUJ wanted was 5,000 promised units of affordable housing. By the time it ended it was 3,500 that was promised. We’re still not up to that number today. It’s been a slow process, but there has been affordable housing created that has come directly from this. You don’t always get what you want, but something is better than nothing.”

Easton will have copies of his book available for purchase at the Imperial Hotel event Saturday in Atlanta. Those who wish to purchase the book elsewhere can do so for a $10 donation by contacting Easton at Terry.Easton@ung.edu.

Easton is an Associate Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. He was not a member of the Imperial Eight, but was contacted by PUJ document the history of the event.

National Church Residences currently offers more than 1,200 units of affordable senior housing and permanent supportive housing in the Atlanta metro area.

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Terry Easton, author of Raising Our Voices, Breaking the Chain

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National Church Residences Commons at Imperial Hotel today.

Navy veteran recalls the second tragedy at Pearl Harbor

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Paul Greenwell, a Navy veteran, who lives at National Church Residences Lincoln Village in Columbus.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                   lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Paul Greenwell has no shortage of stories about his time in the Navy.

Diving in Connecticut’s Thames River wearing a homemade helmet constructed out of a five-gallon bucket … time spent on Midway Island in the Pacific watching the rising tide swallow up half of the base airport’s runway for a few hours each day … making a 320-foot dive while in deep sea diving school in Washington D.C. … and so many more.

But it’s the one that almost no one knows about that really brings out the passion in his voice.

“I’ll tell you something that is not in history books,” Greenwell said with a knowing grin as he sat in the community room at National Church Residences Lincoln Village on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. “May 21, 1944 was the second tragedy of Pearl Harbor.”

Known today as the “West Loch disaster,” the incident was kept a classified secret by the United States government for nearly two decades. Details of the disaster were released in 1960, but by then, enough time had passed that it failed to draw much public attention.

“There were 10 LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) loading ammunition at night, at dusk,” Greenwell said.

Although the government never announced an official cause, it is believed that the initial explosion happened when a mortar round on LST-353 detonated during an unloading operation.

The explosion rocked several of the ships, which were being packed with ammunitions in advance of an upcoming mission. Fire quickly spread from ship-to-ship as Sailors and Marines scrambled to get to safety.

“When I got there they were just raising (LST-480),” Greenwell said. “They sent us in, about 12 to 14 divers. We welded patches onto the ship to try and make it water tight.”

As a 2nd Class Diver, Greenwell had extensive experience diving to patch ships that had been damaged.

“One of my jobs was to crawl inside the torpedo tube and slide down inside it to see if there were any nicks,” he said.

This time, the situation was far more dire.

“(Many) lives were lost when those ships went down,” he said. “They were swimming through the burning oil on top of the water.”

As Greenwell and his fellow divers worked frantically to repair the sinking LST 480, he remembers the moment that changed everything.

“I was using a cutting torch on the bulkhead of the ship. I cut into an oil line,” he said. “The two didn’t mix. It exploded.”

Greenwell said a buddy of his was coming out of one of the ship’s hatches with his arms up in the air when the explosion happened.

“He wound up on the tank deck,” he said. “I blew up about 50 foot through the water. I was bleeding bad.”

An injured Greenwell made his way to safety and was examined by a doctor.

“The doctor said I had a slight concussion and I had a perforated ear drum,” he said. “The doctor said I’d get a Purple Heart. I never did get that. It’s OK. I didn’t want one.”

Officially it is said that 163 naval personnel died that day. Other sources have estimated the overall death total to be as high as 392 with an additional 400 wounded – including Greenwell.

A little more than a year later – the day before Thanksgiving 1945, in fact – Greenwell’s three-year Navy career was over and he returned to his job as a lake patrol officer on Illinois’ Lake Decatur before moving on to a bigger career.

“I worked for the federal government for 28 years as an industrial engineer,” he said.

He spent 22 years in active ministry as a pastor and finally became a counsellor at Reynoldsburg High School near Columbus before retiring to Lincoln Village.

“I always wanted to be a diver,” he said, looking back on his military career. “I weighed 119 pounds and the suit weighed 190.”

During his time in the Navy, Greenwell said that he “worked on every submarine in the Pacific fleet.”

Years after his retirement, he toured a decommissioned sub that was on display in Alabama.

“When I was in Mobile on that sub, they had pictures of the old crew members on display,” he said. “I recognized some of the faces.”

A Lifetime of Service to our Country

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Jerry Bullock, a Marine Corps veteran, at home at National Church Residences Lincoln Village in Columbus.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Really, the only people out there who can poke fun at a Marine and get away with it are other Marines.

Jerry Bullock, a resident at National Church Residences Lincoln Village, joined the Marine Corps in 1962 when he and two friends decided to sign up together.

“Me and a couple of other guys at Marion-Franklin High School went in on the buddy system,” Bullock said. “We went to boot camp together, but we were never in the same Quonset hut.”

Bullock excelled as a Marine and began training in Advanced Infantry. It was the location of the boot camp, however, that got them their nickname.

“We went to boot camp in San Diego, California,” he said. “They called everybody who went to San Diego a ‘Hollywood Marine.’”

While he may have jokingly been ‘Hollywood’ at first, Bullock proudly served his country as a Marine, and later a member of the Navy and the National Guard, before a post-military career in civil service.

The memories of his long career?

“I wouldn’t trade them,” Bullock said.

His military experience truly began when after boot camp he was stationed in the Pacific.

“I went to Hawaii where I went into the weapons platoon,” he said. “Anti-tank assaultman. We trained and learned to fire the 3.5 inch, well, they call them bazookas now.”

Essentially a small rocket launcher, Bullock recalls the aftermath of repeatedly firing the weapons.

“I didn’t care for shooting them,” he said. “Wires would hit you in the face after they fired. You’d spend days picking those wires out of your face.”

Bullock spent two years in Hawaii – which was considered overseas duty at the time, even though Hawaii was a state. He followed up his time there for a brief training in Okinawa, Japan, before rotating back to the United States mainland.

“I ended up being an MP (Military Police) at Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station,” he said. “I was a Desk Sergeant in the Military Police.”

Bullock became part of the team that raised and lowered the flag every morning and night and also assisted other Marines with keeping their military IDs up to date. And then there were also the regular duties that came along with being an MP.

“You had to go to the enlisted club where the guys would get rowdy,” he said. “Have to go and keep them from breaking stuff up.”

With his four years of active duty coming to an end, Bullock was transferred back to southern California and Camp Pendleton.

“They wanted to send me to Vietnam,” he said. “But I only had seven months left to serve, so they kept me at Pendleton.”

There he was tasked with helping train Marines to swim while wearing their full equipment.

“It was to simulate abandoning a ship,” he said, adding that he had to act as a lifeguard on more than one occasion when soldiers struggled to stay afloat. “Lots of them. We let them take a little water first. If you don’t, they’ll grab onto you and drown you.”

Bullock was discharged in October 1966 and served two years of inactive duty before joining the Ohio National Guard and then the Navy for a year.

“When I came home I got a job in construction building the new post office here in Columbus,” he said. “With the weather the way it was and construction, I was only working about two days a week. So I took the post office exam and I passed in both Columbus and Grove City.”

Bullock accepted the position with the Columbus Post Office, where he would spend the next decade.

“I carried mail for 11 years until I injured my knee slipping on the ice. So I got disability from the post office. While I was in the Marines, with all the shooting we did, I lost hearing in my ears. So I get a pension from both the post office and the VA.”

Napoletan on a mission to end Alzheimer’s

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Ann Napoletan was presented with the “Spirit of Philanthropy” award by Jeff Wolf, National Church Residences Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Mission Impact, at the organization’s national conference in September.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                               lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – It was a bit of a shock when Ann Napoletan’s daughter put a hand on her shoulder during the awards presentation at the National Church Residences national conference.

“I didn’t know why she was there,” recalled Ann, an Treasury Manager at the home office in Columbus. “I thought maybe something was wrong.”

Ann was sitting at a table full of colleagues, who had suspiciously made sure their table was toward the front of the room. Little did Ann know that she was the only one at the table – including her daughter – who did not know she was about to receive the National Church Residences “Spirit of Philanthropy” award from Jeff Wolf, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Mission Impact.

“I had absolutely no idea,” Ann said. “I was just blown away. Absolutely blown away. I still am.”

From 9 to 5 (and sometimes even longer) Ann crunches numbers as part of the team of accountants who manage National Church Residences’ budgets. But it is the tireless work she does on the side that truly embodies the organization’s “Spirit of Philanthropy.”

Four years ago Ann lost her mother, Marilyn, to Alzheimer’s Disease shortly after her 76th birthday.

“My mom was the most lively, full-of-life person,” Ann said, sitting for this interview on what would have been Marilyn’s 80th birthday. “My daughter doesn’t want to see the words Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’m the opposite.

“I have to know there’s a greater purpose. For me that’s advocating, teaching, writing, helping other families. It’s almost like a second career.”

After her mother’s passing, Ann began a blog called, “The Long and Winding Road” at www.ALZjourney.com.

“The best way I can keep mom’s memory alive is to keep telling her story,” Ann said.

As her writing gained popularity, she was asked to contribute to the online content for organization’s that dealt directly with Alzheimer’s care.

In 2013 she was asked to co-moderate an online support group called, “Us Against Alzheimer’s.”

“This year I launched a non-profit in my mom’s name,” she added. “I had done so much fundraising for other groups, I just wanted to have a little more control of where the fundraising dollars were going.”

Marilyn’s Legacy: A World Without Alzheimer’s is Ann’s non-profit that is focused on not only finding a cure for Alzheimer’s but also providing unique opportunities to benefit individuals currently living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“I know that I’m making a direct impact on these people’s lives,” Ann said.

The fact that National Church Residences made a point to recognize Ann for her work made it a little more special.

“It was a great experience to be recognized,” she said. “To be at a company that cares about things like that … that it’s not all bottom-line oriented. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Ann added that it is because of her experience in facing her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease that she found her way to National Church Residences in June of 2014.

“I am at National Church Residences because of my mom,” she said. “I was at Nationwide for 27 years. I was in a good place financially and career-wise, but I wasn’t fulfilled at all.”

With a background in treasury, Ann said that it was like divine intervention that the position she currently holds became available at the exact time she felt the need to make a change.

“This treasury job almost fell into my lap,” she said. “This is where I’m meant to be. Even on a bad day, that over-arching mission is still there. I gave up a lot, but I’m so happy here.”

‘Home for Life’ to expand and serve Columbus’ Near East Side

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Christine Leyshon, National Church Residences Community Program Manager, and Rosemary Mathes, National Church Residences Service Coordinator, will be part of the team that will bring Home for Life to Columbus’ Near East Side seniors.

COLUMBUS, Ohio ­– The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation has awarded a Healthy Aging Initiative grant in the amount of $254,209 to National Church Residences to help the organization expand the Home for Life program to residents of Columbus’ Near East Side.

“The project is a combination of strategies,” said Jeff Wolf, National Church Residences Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Mission Impact. “It expands the reach of our Home for Life model to seniors who live outside of our affordable housing properties, while the model itself is an innovation designed to help seniors in the community age in place.”

The Healthy Aging Initiative grant, administered over a two-year span, will touch the lives of nearly 700 at-risk Franklin County seniors. According to Wolf, “The grant is significant beyond its financial investment. A partnership with the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation provides an opportunity to launch innovative solutions that encourage community collaboration and the development of replicable programming.”

“The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation is proud to partner with National Church Residences to share the Home for Life program with residents of Columbus’ Near East Side,” said Susan Beaudry, Director of Programs at the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation. “This innovative program has great potential to provide older, vulnerable adults with the care and support needed to remain in their homes and communities of their choice.”

National Church Residences’ Home for Life program is an outcomes-focused service model, using evidence-based assessments and evaluation tools to identify an individual’s needs and risk factors. By engaging those we serve where they live, Home for Life can identify and overcome social determinant factors that impact an individual’s ability to best manage their chronic diseases, leading to higher satisfaction and engagement, better health and cost savings.

“The objective is to improve access to care and self-management skills of older vulnerable populations by giving them the tools to understand and manage their own care, allowing them to remain in their homes as they age,” said Wolf.

This program will bring the Home for Life model to seniors on Columbus’ Near East Side who do not reside in a National Church Residences facility. The focus is on an area that surrounds the Champion Intergenerational Enrichment and Education Center, at 240 N. Champion Ave.

Bristol Village Olympians bring home 27 medals

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Several of the members of the Bristol Village Senior Olympics team pose with their medals in the courtyard of the Glenn Center in Waverly. Pictured are, left to right, Judy Doll, Otto Zingg, Betsy Hall, Marj Andrus, Ken Love, Mary McElhaney, Sherry Sapienza, Frankie Rinehart, Len Nasman and Gareth Baker.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                              lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

WAVERLY, Ohio – When Marj Andrus stepped to the podium to receive her gold medal, the Senior Olympian from Bristol Village ran into an issue.

To combat the hot summer sun in her events – the 1500- and 5000-meter racewalk – the 98-year old is never without a large, colorful hat.

“That’s the problem,” Marj said. “You can’t get the medal over your head with the hat on. You just need a longer ribbon!”

Marj is one of 17 senior athletes who represented Bristol Village earlier this summer in the Ohio Senior Olympics in the Columbus suburb of Westerville. Altogether, the Bristol Village Olympians brought home 27 medals – including 13 gold, seven silver and seven bronze.

“I had to learn a new walk,” said Marj, who for many years has started each day with a long morning walk to McDonald’s for ice cream. “(For the racewalk) you have to walk with your knees stiff. I had to focus so much on my knees that I didn’t have time to get nervous. Then someone stuck out their hand and stopped me and said, ‘you’re here!’”

“They told us Marj probably had a Senior Olympic record in the 5,000 meters,” said Betsy Hall, who organized the athletics team at Bristol Village. “At 98-years old, they don’t know of anyone else that age who has done it.”

“They told me the record for just for the US and Canada,” Marj added. “I thought, ‘Canada? That’s big enough!”

Betsy, a marathon runner for 21 years, has competed in four National Senior Olympics, winning three gold, one silver and two bronze medals.

Thanks to her enthusiasm for the competition, several of her friends began participating as well.

“It was Betsy,” said Otto Zingg, a medalist in golf and pickleball at the Ohio Senior Olympics. “She started to promote it and encouraged us to participate.

“I thought, well, I’ll do it.”

Otto teamed with Gareth Baker to earn a bronze medal in doubles pickleball – a tennis-like sport played with a wiffleball and paddles – and earned a silver in golf.

“I just turned 80 in June,” he said. “I figured there were not too many others in that age category so I had a good chance to medal.”

Frankie Rinehart also got involved with the Senior Olympics with Betsy’s encouragement.

“Good thing I have this friend,” she said, pointing to Betsy. “I’m kind of an athletic person. So when she said, ‘let’s go,’ I just went.”

Frankie won a gold medal in the 1500-meter and 5000-meter racewalk, a gold in women’s singles table tennis and a silver in women’s doubles table tennis alongside Betsy.

Each of the Bristol Village residents who brought home medals from the Ohio Senior Olympics is now qualified for the upcoming regional Senior Olympics event to be held in Portsmouth, Ohio, in September.

“I can do it. Up to 10 miles. After 10 it’s too much,” Marj said with a smile as she turned to look at Betsy. “If you think I can, Betsy, I will!”

Those who medal at the regional event have the chance to qualify for the 2017 National Senior Olympics in Birmingham, Alabama from June 2-15.

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The 1500-meter racewalk winners at the Ohio Senior Olympics.

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The Bristol Village table tennis team at the 2016 Ohio Senior Olympics.

Bringing home the gold at First Community Village

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Char Christensen

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

UPPER ARLINGTON, Ohio – Char Christensen has been to three World Gymnastics Championships, two Pan-Am Games and was in attendance in 1996 when the United States’ women brought home the first-ever team Olympic gold medal in Atlanta.

“I guess you’d say I have a passion,” Christensen joked. “And a full-time job.”

During the week, Christensen is the health care Activities Director at National Church Residences’ First Community Village. In her free time – especially in gymnastics’ busy season from December to April – Christensen is traveling around the country as a highly-renowned judge in the sport she has been involved with since her youth.

“I currently am a national and USA brevet gymnastics judge,” she said, noting that she has officiated at high school, regional, national and NCAA competitions. “I’ve been at that level for 30 years.”

Christensen’s impact on the sport, though made behind the scenes, is on a national scale.

“I am the Region 5 women’s technical chair,” she said. “Which means I sit on a national committee that makes rule changes. It’s a volunteer position that I’ve held for 25 years.”

When the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics begin this week, Christensen will have even had a hand in selecting the members of the US women’s team. Last month at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Christensen served an auxiliary judge for the balance beam event.

“I have a passion for the sport,” she said. “I was a gymnast. My daughter, Katie, went to Minnesota on a full scholarship for gymnastics. I’m a coach, and an official. I guess you could say I’ve experienced it at all levels.”

At First Community Village, Christensen brings her passion for gymnastics to her residents to help them experience the games.

“There’s a huge sports interest here,” she said. “Every four years we do a torch passing ceremony here. It is a resident with a staff member and we go across the building passing the torch off as an opening ceremony.”

As Activities Director, it is Christensen’s job to keep her residents active.

“During the Olympics we do our version of the Olympic Games,” she said. “We do things like tossing balls through the Olympic rings. Residents really enjoy it. We tie in what’s happening with our community. We are bringing the games to them.”

Christensen has been working with the residents at First Community Village for 15 years.

“I love my job. My goal is to stimulate the residents and involve them physically, mentally, socially and spiritually in our world,” she said. “It is very rewarding. You feel like you make a difference in the residents’ lives on a daily basis.”

Though she isn’t a competitive athlete anymore, Christensen said there are still many aspects from her life as a gymnast that influence her daily life today.

“The physical things we do go by the wayside,” she said. “But it is the processes that carry on. It takes hard work and discipline and teaches you how to both succeed and fail in life. It’s about working with a team and following a structure. It’s important to transfer on that value of hard work to your daily living.”