Special Commune gives confidence to challenged youth

Updated: 2013-04-15 16:35

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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"We've written grant proposals from time to time to meet our needs," Zhang says, noting that the New York City-based Ford Foundation has been a major supporter.

"But fundraising is to us a old business model," he says. "We tend to be self-sustainable as social enterprise - though that's easier said than done. It will be the only way sooner or later - you need to support yourself while doing good for society."

Longer term, Zhang wants to combine long-term sustainable care for his young people with care for another vulnerable group: Seniors.

"That's the next thing you know what we call 'snow birds' in the United States?" says Zhang, who worked for a number of years in Atlanta before returning to his native Beijing more than 10 years ago. "Imagine having a community for mobile homes somewhere in China that's nice and warm in the winter - like Hainan - for older folks to go to in the winter," he says.

"It's a perfect fit think about it. On the one hand, you've got kids who have never grown up. On the other, you've got grown-ups who are practically kids again."

Many such seniors may be parents of a single child who has moved away, and they are reluctant to trust or bond with strangers, even an ayi. But the graduates of Special Commune are no threat.

Young and old can provide companionship for each other, he says, and the Special Commune interns will be taught some simple skills needed to assist seniors in their daily living. "Together with our staff, we can bring five-star service: cooking, cleaning, medical reminders, companionship."

His eyebrows dance upward as he turns up both palms: "One stone, two birds."

Meanwhile, it's early spring at Special Commune. It's quiet now, but work crews are busy preparing the dormitory for another group of residential interns. Apple trees are starting to sport bright red leaf buds on their sun-washed branches.

Another season of promise lies ahead.

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