Florrie Hamilton may not have had any children of her own, but the ornate French chateau-style house she once owned on Angell Street has become home to a sort of extended family.
“It has that sense of being a family,” says Jessica Haley, Executive Director of Hamilton House, an adult enrichment center. “Everybody’s supporting each other.”
Hamilton House was founded in 1972 after Florrie’s death; she had bequeathed the building and land to the Central Congregational Church, which is next door. She had received the house as a wedding gift from her father, George Champlin, whose foundation now funds major repairs and renovations to the building.
At any given time, the nonprofit learning ex- change has about 30 to 40 classes available for its members, encompassing a wide range of topics from analyzing fairytales or a critical theoretical approach to The Great Gatsby, to classes on meditation, salsa, and animation.
But Hamilton House is about much more than taking classes. “The most important thing about Hamilton House is that we keep people from isolation,” Haley explains. “We have many people that relocate to Rhode Island, have lost a spouse, or they just retired – they don’t know what to do.”
The sense of community is engendered by daily lunches, music series, foreign film and dinner nights, and trips to both local destinations like the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and overseas destinations like Iceland and Germany. Hamilton House also maintains several intergenerational programs with local schools, including a reading group with kids at School One and a partnership with Brown University that allows students to teach some of the courses.
“It’s provided much fellowship, camaraderie, stimulation, and really joy for many people who have been here,” says Barbara Slater, a Providence resident who is a new member.
The nonprofit currently has about 280 members, aged 65 to 90. It draws a diversity of people – everybody from a former potato chip delivery driver and bank president to a teacher and nurse.
One of the most important things about Hamilton House is its atmosphere of positive energy, according to Haley. “Some people think when you age there is such loss, but there isn’t,” she says. “There is so much to gain.”