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.