When I was in college digital clocks were still pretty new. We thought 11:11 was a cool time. So, we used it as an excuse to leave our desks and take a quick loud study break. It was a fun stress reliever with sudden loud music and dancing in the hall–accented with a lot of laughter. It went on for only 5 minutes and then we went back to our desks. Over the years of working on Hope & A Future’s business plan and studying the many roadblocks we needed to overcome, I often noticed I was pushing save or send at 11:11. It has always made me smile–because of my college memories. And there was also a special board meeting on 11/11/11 at our house in Middleton. At that meeting we were working on a possible development site for the first TIIN. We were so hopeful that we made a toast “to starting the TIIN by next year at this time.” Although that site did not work out, the next year, 11/2012 Hope & A Future did buy our current property–on a land contract with the help of Brad and Diane Duesler. This property is by far the best site we ever looked at. And this month, 11/2020 we refinanced with our own equity and without the land contract–which felt like a great accomplishment. We have also made major progress in overcoming our most difficult road block–which is such a long story I will not go into it here. But I will say that with some changes to our concept, it looks like we are actually moving forward with our Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood! As soon as we have a few more approvals, we will share these exciting changes with you! So 11/11/20 feels very good this year!
To add to the fun, we have been included in Brenda Krause Eheart’s newly published book–beautifully titled, Neighbors The Power of the people next door. Paula Reif and I met Brenda early on in our now 18 year adventure of trying to build the first complete TIIN. Brenda had created an intentional neighborhood in the 1980s. Although there are differences in populations served, both efforts desired to help vulnerable people in the context of an intentional and intergenerational neighborhood. We have had the privilege of learning together. Paula Reif, Karen Biller and I visited Brenda’s neighborhood before her retirement and part of Brenda’s team visited my first Adult Family Home and looked at a project we were doing pre planning work on in the early 2000s. A few years ago Brenda and Deb Finck (also in the new book) came to visit us at Hope & A Future at the end of their tour of intergenerational neighborhood projects around the country. These are all written about in and if you are reading this blog, I believe you will enjoy reading about them in Brenda’s book. Brenda also shares her exciting story of starting an intentional neighborhood aimed at helping children who had been traumatized by chaotic and often abusive lives, and became stuck in the foster system. Her mission was aimed at helping the children heal in permanent adoptive homes while also supporting the parents adopting them. Support was offered by neighborhood grandparents and professionals that were an everyday part of life in the neighborhood. She does a great job of explaining how this kind of work differs from the roles human service professionals are normally prepared for. Brenda writes:
Whereas most people work with professionals on an occasional basis, by appointment and very often in clinical surroundings, our staff experienced daily life with the children, parents and seniors in our community. I believe this enabled us to build trust and inspire one another in our mutual mission. (page 196 Paragraph 2)
Before I write more, I want to say that Brenda and I are not related to the same Krause family by blood and we did not know of each other when we named our non-profits! But in our separate journeys we did both have an aha. We both believed a staffed intentional intergenerational neighborhood could offer hope to vulnerable people! She founded Hope Meadows and Paula and I founded Hope & A Future. I greatly value Brenda’s encouragement and support as we grind through the bureaucracy of getting our next phase built. I plan to ask for advice as we set up some of the new programs for children. While many people see the value of intentional neighborhoods, it takes a serious degree of passion and tenacious persistence to push through to fruition! Brenda and I both have that and I am very grateful for our relationship.
In her new book, Brenda outlines design patterns common to the thinking behind intentional neighborhood work and notes that while it is easy to;
“Talk about design patterns–intentionally focusing on a vulnerable population, integrating three or more generations, designing for maximum social interaction, and deliberately incorporating diversity into community planning . . . implementation is hard work! It took me a long time to realize that each component represents a critical difference from “conventional” practice. No wonder it often felt that–even though what we were doing was based on research, common sense, and basic values of compassion and kindness–there always seemed to be resistance . . . Hope’s values and beliefs diverged from common understandings and assumptions that guide current practices and policies. Our programs defied prevailing logic and ways of operating.” page 194 paragraph 1 & 2.
In conversation, Brenda and I have shared that in our aha moments we were both aware of the critical importance of relationships in everyone’s life. It has been my experience that when I give equal if not major attention to the psychosocial needs of the people I work with, that they do exponentially better than the people I worked with in traditional settings. In traditional settings, job tasks, lists and medical needs were the primary concern and psychosocial needs were paid attention to “if there was time”–and there was precious little time. We were staffed to accomplish tasks. At Hope & A Future we have worked to create a culture where everyone feels listened to. A big piece of how that is done is by making time to hear each other’s stories and to find out what each person enjoys and hopes for. This is extended not only to residents, but to staff and visitors as well. This is an important part of initial engagement. Our staff and residents are encouraged to share dreams and stories and we work to support each other in the day to day as well as in working toward non work related goals. Our working model is one of a family of friends. That means, we are willing to inconvenience ourselves to help each other. And we all find ourselves feeling cared for, loved and experiencing joy in the day to day. I am often a problem in zoom meetings because of background laughter! I am very grateful for the joy and problem solving we share among staff, residents and their loved ones. We have created a safety net for each other by purposefully focusing on relationships. Before COVID it was our joy to get to know each other’s families, our many guests and volunteers as well.
“At Hope Meadows, on-site professionals . . . continually engaged in the crucial work of supporting and encouraging residents to use their talents, experiences, and interests to build and maintain a strong community, one built on caring connections.” (pg. 195, paragraph 2)
This is done in addition to providing education and facilitating problem identification and problem solving and paying attention to the vast array of business matters and communications with others in the community, and those on a residents team. Our job is really one of servant leadership. We work side by side and share expertise while encouraging others to share theirs. Because I work with such great people at Hope & A Future, I am always surprised when residents know I am somehow “the boss”. One of our residents calls me, “The head boss” instead of Karin. Brenda captures the unique way leadership works in a setting like ours;
“As “the big boss,” managing a diverse team of staff and community members, my job was to facilitate collaborative, reciprocal, trusting, friendly and supportive relationships among all of us. . . . While continually trying to instill our core values, I worked to encourage and empower all involved with Hope Meadows to remain open and flexible to the needs of the community as it continued to evolve.
When each person is more important than an imposed structure, the community does evolve. In our adult family home, the time the day starts and ends varies with the body rhythms of our current residents and what we eat and do varies with their needs and interests. This is the joy and challenge of not only our residents, but also how we support our staff. I know visitors have sometimes felt annoyed with me when I pause when they asked what time we will eat. I am running schedules and activities through my head for that day, because our days do not have the sameness of a traditional institutional setting. They include more of the controlled chaos of a family. A family of friends is more concerned with needs than structure and that does not work for everyone. Some people cannot tolerate working, or for that matter living with flexibility. If you need high structure and high predictability as an employee or as a person, this will not be your best life. When meeting individual needs within relationships flexibility is important. Neighborhood work is not a 9 to 5 job, it is a lifestyle. Vulnerable people have never seemed to know they should have their needs met within those hours nor do they necessarily respect mealtimes! Supporting neighbors will involve evolving daily rhythms and inconveniences–that is how all meaningful relationships work.
Bringing diverse people together to work on common goals also requires flexibility. Creative solutions and learning will abound! And so will problems! Children, parents and older adults each come with a combination of strengths and weaknesses. Accept that and work with it and you will be amazed at the creative and loving results! Brenda quotes Nightlines, Ted Koppel. After visiting Hope Meadows he noted:
“ . . . by putting together a whole bundle of problems [Hope Meadows] appeared to have produced a whole bunch of solutions.” page 204 paragraph 1
Brenda was primarily interested in helping children when she started Hope Meadows and it came as a surprise to her that the neighborhood grandmas and grandpas, whom she saw as a support system for families, became healthier and happier. As a geriatric nurse, the first time I visited Brenda in Illinois, she asked me, “Do you know what happened to our seniors after they moved in?” And I replied, “I assume they became healthier and happier.” Her response was, “How do you know that?”. I explained my observations that support the notion that everyone wants to know they are useful and important to someone. I had also observed that people are either growing or dying and there is nothing in between. Waiting and chronic boredom are dying. But, helping others helps all of us experience the joy of purpose and belonging. Purpose and belonging happen within relationships. And relationships allow us to experience the full range of human emotion. This is real life and Improved health follows. Brenda quotes author Wendy Lustbader who wrote:
“Generosity calls us to life. Involvement in the lives of others is ever replenishing, while pining for self-fulfillment drains the spirit.” page 139 paragraph 3
Brenda now writes;
For too long we have ignored the value, importance and power of the people next door–especially of those who are vulnerable and those who are older–to help make this world a better place, not only for those facing difficult challenges, but for all of us. We have underestimated, underutilized, and too often completely ignored the importance of the special gifts , talents, experiences, and capacity to care that ordinary people through neighboring possess in helping to address adversities that make us vulnerable. We have forgotten that what gives our life its deepest significance and meaning are not professional services, but the caring relationships we make with family, friends, and neighbors. We have forgotten, as Christopher Alexander’s writing continually remind us, of the “profound importance of the ordinary.” page 215 paragraph 2 also 18 from her bibliography
I am excited about Brenda’s book and about moving forward at Hope & A Future. There are so many problems out there that can be healed with healthy, loving relationships. And again I will repeat, If we continue to see the baby boomers as a problem, we will miss the potential resource that they are to help overcome some of society’s seemingly insurmountable problems!
I hope you will read Brenda’s book! I highly recommend it!