Town, Church, and Retirement Community Blend Together, Benefit All

Uplands resident Goldie Schneider volunteers as a mentor for the elementary school across the street from the campus.

At the United Church of Christ’s Uplands Village, a continuing care, affordable retirement community in Pleasant Hill, Tenn., it’s often hard to tell where the CHHSM-member ministry ends and the community begins. And that’s just the way everyone likes it.

Uplands is a community within a community. Its 300 residents, including many retired UCC pastors, missionaries, employees, and spouses, actively live and witness their faith across local Cumberland County, and the results are astonishing.

Located in the heart of Uplands’ 500-acre campus is Pleasant Hill Community United Church of Christ — Pleasant Hill’s local UCC congregation made up of Uplands and non-Uplands folks. The church frequently holds meetings in Uplands facilities, and Uplands often uses the church-owned Community Center for events.

Uplands resident Barbara Everett teaches pottery to children at the summer-long day camp held on the campus.

Many Uplands residents volunteer at the local Habitat for Humanity and other social justice groups in the surrounding area, and support local arts organizations. Civic-minded Uplands residents and church members often serve on the Pleasant Hill Town Council, and “several have been elected mayor,” says Mary Schantz, an Uplands resident since 2010.

All three entities come together in the summer, when Uplands offers a two-month day camp for children in the community. The local elementary school — across the street from the Uplands campus — provides free breakfast and lunch for the campers, and participants use the lap pool in the Uplands Aquatic Therapy Center. When school is in session, many Uplands residents serve as mentors to the students, and the campus organizes visits by the children to its assisted living and long-term care facilities.

Shalom Center ignites activity

But perhaps the most unique partnership is with the Shalom Center for Continuing Education, a separate nonprofit organization based on the Uplands campus that was started by a small group of Uplands residents in 2000. The group was led by UCC activist and pastor the Rev. Ted Braun, an Uplands resident who died in 2015. Braun was best known for leading annual study seminars to Cuba (which included more than 45 Uplands residents over the years).

After discussing the horizon-expanding programs they’d attended throughout their lives, Braun and the group founded the Shalom Center to bring the same kind of educational programs to the Uplands campus. All programs are free and open to the general public.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of DC
-based Code Pink, addresses a Shalom Center audience.

The first Shalom program — featuring the director of the Scott Joplin Museum in St. Louis — covered the impact of ragtime music on the issues of race and equality. “This first program was very well received,” Schantz says, “and attendees immediately wanted to know what Shalom would offer next.”

Shalom Center programs have included presentations by Habitat founders Millard and Linda Fuller, Southern Poverty Law Center editor Adrienne Van der Valk, 1960s civil rights activist Maria Gitlin, and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, among others

In 2015, the Center began a series of six-week “Shalom Short Courses,” taught by qualified Uplands residents or local area experts. Courses include everything from philosophy and religion classes to courses on jazz and the blues and cost just $20 per course to attend.

In addition, the Ted Braun Memorial Program is held annually in founder Braun’s memory. In 2016, the Rev. Elmer Lavastida, leader of the Second Baptist Church El Salvador in Santiago Cuba, and his wife, Gisela Perez, founder of the B.G. Lavastida Center for Christian Service, led a program about the current conditions in Cuba.

Something for everyone

Sharron Eckert finishes an art installation at Uplands.

Today, Uplands offers a full continuum of health care for independent living, assisted living, and nursing home residents, along with rehabilitation and memory care. Its Wellness Center with Aquatic Therapy opened in 2016. As with all things Uplands, the Aquatic Center and Wellness Center Fitness Gym are available to all. There is no fee for Uplands residents to use the facilities, and only a low monthly fee for residents in the wider community.

The arts also are integrated into daily life at Uplands. Residents have readers theatre, and some participate in the nearby Cumberland County Playhouse. The campus also houses a pottery house where residents create impressive works of clay. Some Uplands residents first studied at the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tenn., just west of Pleasant Hill. The campus also sports groups for quilting, weaving, writing, basketry, visual arts, music, and woodworking, among others.

But it’s the holistic approach to a life that includes the local church, the town, and the Uplands campus that is most rewarding, says Schantz.

“Uplands, the Shalom Center, Pleasant Hill Community UCC, and the town of Pleasant Hill are all the stronger for working together,” she adds. “None of these entities would be what it is today without the existence of the others.”

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