During her first week at Treehouse, our new Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development, Julie Kumble, met Emily Lewis. Emily is a vivacious woman who seems to be everywhere at once: reading to a child, working on peace and justice, managing a local symphony. "Who IS this woman?," Julie wondered. They sat down to chat.
Julie Kumble: Whenever I see you, you seem really happy! What gives you joy here at Treehouse?
Emily Lewis: I have experienced joy so many times living at Treehouse. Coming home to my apartment at Treehouse, to my little neighborhood where I know almost everyone, I feel embraced by this as well as the beauty of the environment and Mt. Tom! There are so many joyful moments witnessing the growth, changes, and delightful achievements of our children. Being part of that process gives me joy.
JK: Do you have a special way that you connect to the children at Treehouse?
EL: Children need allies and being an ally is my favorite way to connect with children. This could be participating in our after school Drop-In program where I play with the kids and give recognition and encouragement. I enjoy all ages. Lately however, I especially delighted with our youngest children - watching them make friends, navigating personalities and needs, and gently helping this process when needed.
My connection to families changes as the years go by. In the first few years I babysat often for two families. I found these times challenging and fun, and learned a lot. During those same years as well and currently, I've helped with transportation, or being a good neighbor to the families through an interaction or specific request.
JK: What about connecting with other Community members? How has that influenced you?
EL: Living with other older people has given me opportunity to accept my own aging as a vital senior/elder. I enjoy learning what other's life experiences have been and continue to be. I savor the times I help neighbors through meals, hair trims, shopping, transportation, etc., partly because it's good to help but mainly because I really like these people.
JK: You’ve been here for six years. How has it changed for you since your first year?
EL: When I first came, I didn’t really know how I could step in and help. It was a little challenging at first but the staff were very receptive to helping me integrate here and making it better. We started a volunteer support group for Treehouse older adults like me and other volunteers to talk about our experiences with the children, youth and families. We share what has worked really well and our challenges. Social work staff and a therapist attend that group, and it has been a great way to be more engaged.
JK: Tell me a little bit about yourself! Where did you live before Treehouse? Do you have family nearby? What has been your professional background?
EL: I had visited TH before it was completed because a friend of mine was volunteering to help find tenants and she wanted me to see it, to know about it, because it was (and is) such a great idea, and now a reality! Several years passed and I decided that it was time for me to find a stronger community environment, one where I might stay comfortably for what could be a very old age. I looked up Treehouse, made an appointment, and visited. I could not believe the change and how beautiful the Treehouse campus looked. It is more beautiful today with the wonderful variety of trees and their growth! About a year and half after submitted my application, and 24 years living an active life in Amherst, I moved into Treehouse!
JK: Good for you! I know that you’re involved in a LOT of things. What’s your background and what did you do during some of those 24 years in Amherst? How does Treehouse fit into your life path?
EL: I have a varied work history: fifth grade teacher, houseparent at a children's center whose residents were placed by courts because of difficult home lives, executive assistant and outreach person at a school for children with Downs syndrome, health educator and public relations for a greater Springfield medical facility to name some primary jobs. For the last 16 years I have been business manager for the Holyoke Civic Symphony. Also, I am currently board chair of The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice (TRC is a continuation of the local office of American Friends Service Committee.)
Treehouse, the Symphony, and TRC all give me a sense of true meaning and for me are interconnected in that they nurture individuals and community. This view of life - the circle of giving and receiving, social justice, and the arts have been part of my whole adult life, and now more so than ever!
A bonus is that my daughter Maggie and her husband Scott live only a few miles from TH, and though they aren't the reason I moved to Easthampton - Treehouse is the reason - it's serendipitous that they do!
JK: Now I understand why you always seem so happy! You’re living where your view of life—giving and getting as a result—happens at home.
EL: It’s interesting because I’ve transformed since living here. It’s connected to many things but a lot of it is because of the staff. I have great admiration for them.
JK: How so? You’ve worked in a lot of therapeutic and educational settings, so what do you mean exactly?
EL: Well, I think they practice extremely deep listening, they reflect compassion, they’re extraordinarily flexible, they’re creative…just look at what Jen Mattias does with the TreeCat Café!
JK: And you were saying that the staff has played a roll in your own transformation…
EL: Yes. I don’t believe in finding yourself, I believe in creating yourself. Those qualities of the staff and their approach here has helped me be the way I want to be.
JK: That’s lovely. Thank you for sharing that.
JK: What would you tell prospective Community members about living at Treehouse?
EL: I would tell prospective tenants that living at Treehouse is a combined opportunity: to live in a lovely community and feel at home while participating in community events and do "good works" while growing individually with open hearts.
JK: What do you tell volunteers?
EL: I would say to volunteers that the children are magical and such a delight. And, they get to converse and connect with other volunteers to learn about their shared and different experiences. One way to do this - a way that I thoroughly enjoy - is by attending the Volunteer Support Group. Some volunteers find a special niche right away; other take more time to settle in. I would say that the way to benefit most as a volunteer is to share experiences.
JK: Thanks for taking the time to talk and for sharing your insights with me and Treehouse readers, Emily!
EL: Thanks, Julie. See you in the neighborhood!