Bridges Together and Hebrew Senior Living

Today I spent time with the lovely Julie and Andrea from Bridges Together, an organisation in Sudbury Mass that plans, develops and delivers intergenerational programs and training. Their IG programs provide strategic opportunities for any skipped generations to come together and engage in activities that support the whole person development of all participants including he older adults, children and staff. 

They are clear thatintergenerational is…

  • A mindset that says regardless of what we are doing, we can bring generations together 
  • A culture and way of life
  • Supported by policies and procedures (yes I like this being a policy geek!)
  • A professional field with best practices, research, journal, thought leaders and associations 

They went through how to approach and deliver intergenerational activities, the do’s and don’ts, how to make it successful and how to build partnerships.  I learnt so much that I’m eager to get going when I get back! I found out why it’s important is to have a leadership team with representatives from the different age groups, to plan carefully and to have training in how to deliver a successful program. It’s not just a case of getting different age groups together, it’s important to plan properly to ensure that meaningful engagement takes place.

Andrea also kindly set up a meeting at a senior housing provider who has successfully run an entire intergenerational program across multiple sites for a number of years. They run so many programs and activities it is hard to list them all!

However, the key things I’ve learned today are…

  • There are opportunities to build intergenerational activities into almost anything we do – not just in terms of residents. But also for our staff members. Some great ideas are…an IG dance class learning dances from different eras; an I G garden; IG lunch or ice cream socials; mentoring and buddies.
  • There are so many benefits for participants and lasting relationships can be built.
  • Start small and go slow – build up gradually and evaluate activities as you go along.
  • If possible, monitor outcomes.
  • Ensure staff facilitating are trained. Without key staff it won’t work.
  • Never say no! If an opportunity presents itself try to make it work!

Well I can’t believe I’m near the end of my research trip ! It’s gone so quickly and I’ve met so many wonderful people. I’m having a few days holiday in New York before visiting a grandfamily housing development in the Bronx.

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The Treehouse, Easthampton

Today I’ve spent a lovely day at the Treehouse community in Easthampton Massachusetts – thank you to all the staff and community members (seniors and kids) who spoke with me. They were even so kind as to get me a birthday cake (and it was my favourite…carrot cake!).

Opened in 2006, Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow is an intergenerational community for families that are adopting children from the public foster care system and for seniors who want an engaged life style.  This innovative community, one of the first in the nation to be built from the ground up, is receiving national attention for its goal to “stop the bounce,” to end the epidemic of foster children being moved from home to home and instead create permanent homes for these vulnerable children. Delivering on founder Judy Cockerton’s desire to connect seniors with families, the neighborhood consists of 60 one, three, four and five bedroom apartment homes designed in a village-like setting with a central focus on the development’s community centre for gatherings as well as educational and recreational programming.

The Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow is a unique partnership of three organizations: Beacon Communities, The Treehouse Foundation, and Berkshire Children and Families.  The Berkshire Center for Families and Children has worked closely with Treehouse and the Department of Social Services to provide foster/adoptive care placement and on-site social services to the community.

Financing partners for Treehouse include the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, the MassHousing Finance Agency, the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, and Bank of America, with syndication provided by Centerline Capital Group.

Located at the base of Mt. Tom in Easthampton, MA, Treehouse at Easthampton Meadow, is part of a larger 46 acre, master planned community that includes a 33 unit homeownership community and 17 acres of open space that are permanently deed restricted and conveyed to the City.

The Treehouse community offers rental homes, including 48 affordable senior cottages, for individuals over 55 who are interested in a mission driven, caring  community. There are twelve rental homes with 3-5 bedrooms, for families providing permanency for children through adoption, foster, guardianship or kinship care.

Over 100 people, ranging in age from 3-90, live on Treehouse Circle. The six staff members working on-site collaborate to bring people together so they can get to know one another and form trusting relationships, the foundation for long-term engagement. As Treehouse community members gather in the Community Centre, Community Garden, on the back patio, for picnics and barbeques, to spend time painting, cooking, hiking, riding bikes and participating in activities, connections are formed.

Treehouse is a diverse community and has attracted seniors and families, from near and far – indeed I met two ‘ladies in waiting’ who are volunteering there and getting to know the community while they wait for a rental opportunity to come up. The seniors were a great bunch and I don’t think I have laughed so much in my whole time in the USA – I could have spoken to them all afternoon!

Many of the seniors had moved there because they didn’t feel ‘old’ – yes they have retired but they felt they had so much to offer, they wanted to stay part of an active community rather than sitting in an ‘old folks home’. Many of them volunteer regularly with the kids, with whom they have organically formed close bonds, whether that’s through babysitting, school runs or piano/dance lessons. The best thing about living there is the community and the support they all give each other. Although the seniors  volunteer with the kids, they get a lot out of it and they love to see the kids running around and all the noise they make.

One lady told me about a young girl who comes to visit regularly. The senior had recently gone on holiday and when she returned the girl came up and gave her a big hug because she’d missed her so much. She said ‘I love you’ and made the senior promise not to go away again without letting her know. Another told me about a young man who lives there who comes over for cooking lessons – apparently she is a very good cook!

I was also really impressed with the demonstrable outcomes for the young people who live there – since it opened all but one child has graduated high school compared to just 58% of foster children nationally. The kids I spoke to were all lovely and readily got on with their homework at the after school club.

Not only do the seniors benefit from interacting with the kids and vice versa, the staff I spoke to all love working there and feel they have benefitted too. They get great job satisfaction working with community members of all ages whereas in other jobs, they may have just only provided services to one age group.

The community is also helping to break down stereotypes among the wider community. Because the community is racially diverse, this has had a positive knock on effect in the nearby town. Even the receptionist at my hotel 20 minutes away had heard of this unique community!

Judy told me that they are in the process of setting up two similar communities in California and nearby Framingham. Hopefully they will be able to get the funding in place and local support so they can replicate this wonderful community.

Ecovillage

For the last two days I’ve been visiting a cohousing community called Ecovillage in Ithaca, New York State. It’s the biggest cohousing community in the world and it’s been around for over 20 years. The Village is based on 175 acres of land with just 15 acres being used for densely clustered housing. There are also 3 farms, ponds, play areas, a community workshop, a sauna and swimming ponds.

The Village is made up of 3 different neighbourhoods which have been built separately over a period of 20 years. There’s FROG (First residents group) which was the first neighbourhood built back in 1997; the second neighbourhood is called SONG and that was finished in 2006 and more recently the last neighbourhood TREE was completed in 2015. Although each neighbourhood looks different and has been built using different materials and technologies, they are all based on green principles and on a culture of sharing. Technologies such as super insulation and solar, mean that some of the homes are producing more energy than they use and seven have achieved Passivhaus standard. The community also car pools as well as sharing electronics, toys, books and furniture.

Each neighbourhood has a common house where they share meals weekly, there’s a children’s play area (both inside and outside), offices, guest rooms, dining areas and community kitchens. I enjoyed a lovely community meal at SONG where I was lucky enough to be treated to chocolate cake and ice cream to celebrate birthdays taking place in October (I’m 40 tomorrow!) There was also a ping pong table and they have tournaments. They were also the process of setting up a new bar like area and were asking residents to give their input on the new lighting. At the meeting, one of the TREE residents Bobbi, also talked about some free Reiki classes she was giving to the community and some pet behavioural classes that people could sign up to for free.

One of the main things I noticed here is that it is very much resident led. There are so many committees to which the residents contribute to in order to keep their community going. There are work groups for things like cooking and outdoors. Residents are expected to volunteer 2-4 hours per week based on their skills. No one moaned about this and Frederique, one of the SONG residents told me how it’s not really a chore as he thinks about how many hours everyone together contributes. His wife Helen mows the grass as it fits around her work schedule and I saw Jim a spritely 74 year old hoovering the common house.

Residents were heavily involved from the beginning in all aspects of the planning and design of their neighbourhoods. Liz, one of the cofounders, has written a very informative book on how the idea came about, how they got it off the ground, issues with funding the build and all the problems that took place. However, what is clear is that all residents have a say. Although some expressed frustration at how long the consensus based approach can take to reach a decision, they were generally supportive of being able to have their say in what goes on.

Another thing that struck me straightaway  was what a great place this is for kids  – my kids would definitely love it here. There was so much open space and the parents I spoke with told me how safe it is for kids because there are no cars in the neighbourhoods plus there is always someone around. This made them feel like they didn’t have to plan activities so much, the kids were freer to explore and be creative and they had their friends next door so things can happen more spontaneously. I did notice however, that Ecovillage was very very quiet – although parents didn’t mention this as an issue, I was told that there had been some complaints about noise but I guess you get that in any neighbourhood.

In terms of the intergenerational aspect, there were plenty of opportunities for people of different ages to mix together and to learn from each other. A 20 year old resident told me how she loves learning from the older residents who know so much about all sorts of things such as gardening, sewing etc – she just has to ask and someone will help her or teach her. This was echoed by one of the parents and also some of the older residents – clearly at Ecovillage you are never too old to learn a new skill! Plus, because the centre of the neighbourhoods at green, open space where kids can run around, its easy for both age groups to come into contact with each other. There’s always something going on here whether its ‘Guys Baking Pies’, the Winter Spiral, Thanksgiving celebrations, swimming, skating, apple pressing etc – and all ages mix and get involved.

Wallace one the TREE residents has published an article on living at Ecovillage and this is what he had to say: ‘We in TREE encounter younger people continually. Our neighbors on both sides are couples with six of the 16 young children in TREE; several other households include teenagers full- or part-time. We regularly join younger adults, and sometimes children, in social events, meetings, and work-team projects. We particularly enjoy watching younger folks’ outdoor activities through our large kitchen windows (which, as in all the EVI houses, are deliberately placed to look out on neighborhood pathways): parents and children hurrying to and from school and jobs or appointments downtown; kids rough-housing or having tea-parties on the grassy swale out front, and building snow-houses in winter.’

 

Road Trip!

So today I took a lovely 6 hour drive from Cleveland to Ithaca, New York State. Boy, I’ve never seen so much roadkill! The scenery was beautiful though, huge hills/mountains (not sure) covered in tall red, green and yellow trees. At the highest point I was 2200 feet up! There were signs telling me to watch out for bears and deer crossing ( only saw dead ones unfortunately). I also managed to stop at a beautiful place with a huge lake and got chatting to an old fisherman who told me he history of nearby Jamestown and how it was settled by the Swedes and Italians in the 1800s. He was trying to get me to move there and I could see why, it was gorgeous.

I then finally arrived at Ecovillage Ithaca a cohousing community with around 240 residents and 3 communities. It’s high up in the hills with no light pollution so the sky is crystal clear and you can see the stars nice and bright! I did try to take a photo of the sky like an idiot but it wouldn’t come out on my  iPad! It’s based on 175 acres and most of it remains green. It’s high up so you can see all around – I’m going to take some photos of the views tomorrow! 

Griot Village!

Today I’ve been visiting Griot Village in Cleveland, a 40 unit development that was specially built to house grandparents age 55 and over with legal custody of their grandchildren. The project was developed in partnership by Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC) and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) at a cost of $12m.

There are over 7000 grandparents in Cleveland looking after grandchildren and 55% of these live in the Fairfax district. FRDC became aware of the problem and obtained funding to carry out further research. They found that grandparents struggled with looking after much younger grandchildren physically and financially. In addition, they were excluded from many housing options, such as senior housing, because they were looking after young children.

Over a period of 6 years FRDC applied for funding (a mixture of Tax Credits, grant funding and private finance) to build the development in partnership with CMHA which opened around 5 years ago.

I was lucky enough today to speak with a variety of residents, both old and young, as well as different staff members who are involved in running the development. The key theme that came through, as with every intergenerational housing project I’ve visited so far, was that of being one big family and a united community. ‘We all just help each other and look out for each other’ one resident told me. I asked if this type of intergenerational setting made a difference and the resounding answer was yes. It helps both the grandparents and grandkids to have others in a similar situation to them, so they have people around them who understand what they are going through. Of course it also helps their financial situation as residents only pay 30% of their income in rent with the rest being made up in housing vouchers. Having safe, good quality accommodation, near schools and shops is also a big help.

I met Jaziah – an amazing 16 year old who, despite a traumatic background, is studying at college and wants to be an FBI agent. He’s already completed FBI summer school! He also dances, acts, plays music and gets good grades. His grandmother told me how he wouldn’t have done so well without the after school programs that are run at the village and due to all the support he gets from staff who have put on courses and special activities.

The amount of support from staff is amazing! I spoke with Angela the case manager for the Village and a trained social worker. She does all the intake assessments and meets families yearly (at least) to gather info on what their needs are. She then develops 1-2-1 or group activities based on what they need or would like including grief counselling, art therapy, jewellery making and cooking classes. She told me she works 20 hours a week but is only contracted for 6 because she loves it so much. She feels working in an intergenerational setting benefits her personally as she gets great satisfaction from helping both age groups – ‘it’s great because I can do stuff with the grandparents in the morning and with the kids in the afternoon, as well as getting them althogether so I have the best of both worlds’.

The Village was planned with input from residents of both ages and that perhaps accounts for why it works so well – Denise VanLeer from FRDC told me how they consulted a lot with potential residents before the project started to get an idea of what grandparents and kids wanted. They also future proofed the Village so there are some units that are all on one level so families can transfer as grandparents’ mobility declines. Also, across the street is a senior independent living facility so grandparents can transition over the road if they wish so they don’t need to leave their community.

A playground has been added recently for the children in partnership with Kaboom! They help raise funds for, and build, play areas for children. One resident told me ‘ it was great. There were over 300 people here an it was built in a day. We all got together to help clear the ground and we all cooked for the volunteers – even all the kids joined in too.’ Again, what was nice was that he playground was planned and designed in proper consultation with residents (although one girl was upset they didn’t add a swimming pool!)

It’s been a lovely day today and has further cemented my thinking so far on how to successfully do intergenerational housing….

1. Ensure you have a purpose and are clear on the type of community you want to build and why.

2. Ensure you have the right staff in place – in terms of qualifications, willingness and personality – without this it will not work.

3. You have the right residents – this type of living is not suited to everyone so you need to ensure residents want to be part of one big community who will look out for and help each other.

4. Planning – your future residents must be involved in the planning and design. Plus you need to think about the future and how you will transition on seniors or children as they get older.

Now off to bed!

Meeting veterans in Danville

Yesterday and today I’ve been visiting Cannon Place in Danville with Mercy Housing Lakefront President Mark Angelini. Cannon Place is a supported housing development that is home to over 60 veterans of all ages and veterans with families. These are veterans who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or disabled. Once they move into Cannon Place they have safe, good quality accommodation and access to a range of services tailored to their needs such as addiction support, rehabilitation, employment support etc.

The development is a partnership between Mercy Housing, the Danville Housing Authority and Veterans Affairs who have worked to bring the project to fruition. Residents started moving in last year and most veterans I spoke to had been there around one year. Veterans Affairs identify and screen potential applicants, the housing authority provides the rent vouchers (like LHA) and Mercy provides the accommodation. 

The building is still brand new and has lots of facilities such as a common room which is often used for gatherings and parties – Matt the maintenance man has ideas to hold film nights in there too. There’s a fitness centre, laundry, donation room, a computer lab and 24/7 desk. The apartments are a mix of 1, 2 and 3 beds with a kitchen and bathroom. All have a walk in shower and have been future proofed in terms of mobility needs. The whole building has also been designed to be fully handicapped accessible. There’s also plans to add a playground for the kids – Mark explained that they didn’t want to overdesign inititally but to see how residents felt in the building and to add a children’s area later that met their age needs etc. Being surrounded by beautiful swathes of green open space, it was clear the kids are taking advantage of the area by the number of bikes racked up outside the building. 

In fact I spoke to Ronique, a mum of four who was previously homeless after spending time in the military. She now lives there with two of her children who attend the local school. She told me how everyone is like one big family and they all try to support each other in any way they can. She had nothing when she arrived here so the staff took her to the donation room and completely kitted out her apartment with brand new pans, plates, cutlery etc.  She’s now getting her life back on track, is studying at college and is even taking a lead role in ensuring residents get the services they need. One of her current projects is trying to get the local school bus to stop at the building which they won’t currently do as it’s classed as military land. 

I also spoke with James age 62 who’s in the photo – he’s a veteran who’s lived there for a year. He introduced me to his dog Buddy, whom he says, all the kids love. They love to pat and stroke him he says. I asked if there were any issues with families living there – no it’s great to see the young people about. 

I got a similar story from Matt the maintenance man who said there’s no real issues with noise and that the older veterans love having the kids around. This is especially so as many have moved from different states to live there so they don’t have blood relatives close by. James had moved from Mississippi for example. The age mix was really nice to see with veterans ranging from their 20s upwards, yet Earl another resident told me they just ‘help each other out’. 

I’m having a couple of days off now before going to see Griot Village Grandfamily Housing in Cleveland on Monday and Judson Manor, a nursing home that also houses music students from the university next door on Tuesday. 😀

Day out with Felix!

This blog is a little delayed as I’ve been busy sightseeing and then driving on the
right hand side of the road down to a place called Rantoul.
As usual I fell for the con trick of upgrading to a larger car so I now have a bright red
Jeep to cruise around in… Luckily the drive went smoothly after a little hiccup of
getting the brake and accelerator mixed up – doh! 
On Friday I was lucky enough to spend the full day with Felix Matlock, Mercy
Housing’s Vice President of Resident Services. We spent time driving around what
felt like the whole of Chicago and I got to see a wide range of communities, housing
types and people. I got a good insight into the different types of housing available
and had the chance to talk about similar issues affecting the UK and the US. Some
of the following points are not strictly about intergenerational housing but I think they’re useful nevertheless. 

Mercy Housing is a non-profit that owns 50 properties providing a variety of housing:
permanent supportive, senior and family. They own 5374 apartment homes and
have helped prevent around 16000 people becoming homelessness. The first thing I
quickly realised is that you need to be clear on terminology – what we call properties,
they call ‘units’ – this raised some eyebrows when I told them that Ongo Homes owns 9500 properties because Russell, one of their Service Co-ordinators, thought
this meant we owned 9500 apartment buildings (as opposed to their 50)! Mercy mainly provides accommodation in apartment style buildings as opposed to ‘scattered sites’ like we have in the UK, as they believe this enables them to house
more people and deliver more effective services. 

Felix’s team deliver services within their apartment buildings led by a Service Co-
ordinator who generally is well qualified in their field (such as a degree in social
work). The breadth of services offered was amazing and these are led by the needs
of the residents being served. These included things such as after school programmes, nutrition advice, access to medical services, addiction support, childcare provision, money management advice and employment support. Some are
funded through MH’s budget and others have their own funding but work together for
mutual benefit. However, a big issue that resonated with what’s happening in the UK,
is the lack of funding for services when budgets are being cut or squeezed. This has
led to many of the services they used to access being cut or reduced and staff have
to be creative.  

Another issue that mirrors what’s happening in the UK is the issue of aging in place –
here the average length of time in permanent supportive housing is around 15 years
(this is where a person is in between homelessness and independent living). MH are
now finding that some of their residents are getting into their 50s and their needs are
changing. This can be an issue with the reduced ability to access appropriate
services (such as state facilities for people with mental health problems) but also because they are having to consider supplying minor adaptations. 

Some of the neighbourhoods we visited were troubled, having issues such as high
gun crime and a lack of public transportation – these included places such as Holland, Wentworth, Inglewood and Austin where many of the private houses were
boarded up. Despite this, Mercy is doing their best to provide good quality, safe accommodation to the families and singles who live there. I also saw examples of how they’ve re-developed old historic buildings such as the Pullman Wheelworks and the Lofts on Arthington (which were part of the old Sears building) – look these up on Google they are gorgeous buildings! Plus I couldn’t believe the spec – residents get a dishwasher, a fridge-freezer and a stove! 

Finally, to come to the intergenerational housing….I got to speak with staff and
residents at Roseland Village which provides 10 units to house grandparents age 62 or over who have legal guardianship of 2 or more children. I spoke with two grandmothers who, at age 71 and 65, were looking after 3 grandchildren each with ages varying from 6 to 16. They’d lived at Roseland Village for a few years and couldn’t praise it enough. Both had moved from different neighbourhoods to live there where they’d struggled with unaffordable rents and unsuitable housing.  

When I asked them what the best thing was about living there the answers were very
similar: they feel safe and secure and it helps them do a better job of raising their
grandchildren. They could not praise Yolande (the Service Co-ordinator) enough for all the resources she tries to provide for them including book bags for when the kids are starting back at school, and the advice she gives on topics such as navigating the transition between different schools. ‘Her door is always open and she has so much compassion. She just wants to help us in any way she can’ was one of the comments. It’s also things such as being able to do the laundry in their own home rather than having to take it on the bus and the holiday programmes provided for the  kids to keep them busy. They both told me how moving here had improved their physical and mental health, reduced their isolation, helped the kids educational attainment and improved their financial situation. Another good thing is that the Village is co-located next to Roseland Place an independent senior living apartment block. This means the residents from Roseland Village can use their facilities and join in with activities, but also that once the grandkids have left home, the grandparent can transition and move over, meaning they don’t have to look for  somewhere new to live. 

We also visited Colony Park senior housing but I won’t got into that as I’ve done a
You Tube video – link on my previous blog.  

Altogether it was a great day finished off with lovely Greek food and a glass of wine!

Live in Hope….

I’ve been living in Hope Meadows, Rantoul, Illinois now since Sunday. This is an intergenerational community where seniors and families live side by side. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming I’ve been busy every day and have met so many lovely people who’ve shared their stories with me. 

When Hope was set up it was very innovative. It was the brainchild of Brenda Erheart with whom I was lucky enough to have lunch today. She wanted to improve the lives of foster kids so set up Hope with the intention that the families could raise their foster kids in a warm loving environment, supported by active seniors who wanted to help support parents. The idea was that seniors would volunteer 6 hours a week helping parents by babysitting, doing activities with the kids and giving them advice. The seniors would benefit fom staying active and not being isolated.

Today it’s changed a lot and the fostering element is not so prominent. Nevertheless, the community is still clearly one big family and they still live by the original principles of mutual support and friendliness. Indeed, 85 year old Jim a former school teacher helps parents navigate the school system and goes to watch local kids at football matches etc. A number of other seniors in their 60s/70s help out at the after school club or take parents who struggle with  transport shopping. You would not believe the amount of activities these seniors do – and why? Well – ‘the kids keep us young’ was the overwhelming response!

Hope is sited on an old Air Force base – when it was set up Brenda managed to convince the authorities to let her have a section of the service family Housing which she then converted for use for families and seniors. These houses are still there today and form the core of the community…although there are issues with maintenance as they get older. There’s also two community style centres where they run after school programmes for the kids and 82 year old Dorothy opens it up every morning and makes coffee for other seniors (I made sure I set my alarm early to see this!)

I’ve still got another day here so more to follow…. I’m also going to visit a similar community in Massachusetts later in the month so that will be a good comparison! 

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