Karin Krause & Paula Reif’s Reflection

 As we begin 2019, we hope you are enjoying memories of time spent with family and friends during the holiday season!   We are happy to report our days were filled with laughs and love! And now we enter the near hibernation months in Wisconsin—we wait for the days to get longer and we watch the winter weather.  For us, highlights now become table talk around home cooked meals and reading books or watching movies by the wood stove.

However, watching the news can bring an unwelcome chill.  As a country, it appears we have a mental health crisis going on.  Extreme symptoms include school and mass shootings, shots fired, drug and sex slave trafficking. On a quieter level are the lives lived with feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness.  Record numbers of people are hoping legal or illegal drugs will help lift the dark heaviness of loneliness, depression and sleepless nights of anxiety. Use of antidepressants across age groups had increase by 65% in 2017.  One in nine people across all age groups take at least one antidepressant.  Life expectancy has been lowered, in part because of the increase in deaths from suicide and opioid overdose.  And death from drug overdoses is on the rise across the country. Even librarians are being trained to recognize and administer lifesaving drugs for narcotic overdose.  

There is an answer.  Simply put, people need the support of each other.  To flourish we need to know that someone cares! Young people need the wisdom of seniors and seniors need the energy of the young.  It is interesting to note, that how we define young and senior is often very subjective. Ask a three-year-old, a teenager and a centurion “who is old and who is young” and you will receive very different answers!  So, it is fair to say, we all need each other. All people want to belong and to have purpose. We all want to be heard, valued and useful. Without a sense of purpose and belonging, we do not flourish. While there are healthy and unhealthy groups to belong to—everyone wants to belong somewhere.  Dangerous gangs would not have the appeal they do, if there were more healthy homes and options. Our mental and physical health are affected dramatically by the presence or lack of the sense of purpose and belonging–and that affects our life trajectory and societal health.

As we look at inclusivity as a society, there is more than ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status to discuss.  Age groups are increasingly disconnected from each other. The definition of nuclear and extended families has become a fluid concept. People move more frequently.  The ideology of marriage has changed and a growing number of children grow up without a consistent parental figure and do not have the opportunity for a strong parental bond.   Children are more likely to move multiple times and to be raised by multiple people. And the skill of maintaining long term relationships is further hampered by increasing use of technology and decreasing face to face communication.  Policies and practices further divide people—government subsidized housing separates people into groups defined by age and socio-economic status.

America was supposed to be a melting pot of cultures and ideas where all people regardless of color, sex, creed or national origin could flourish.  Yet, our policies segregate us. We build tall towers of affordable housing, often in low opportunity neighborhoods and wonder why generational poverty continues.  Large senior facilities are often built on the edge of town away from the intergenerational mix of life and we shake our heads at the knowledge that depressed seniors give up prematurely and health costs soar as they continue to be alive without really living.  More people now fear being placed in a senior facility than fear dying!

The cost to society for hopelessness in young and old is beyond our resources and growing exponentially.  Seniors and families with young children living at low socio-economic status are the two fastest growing segments of our population and the programs and policies we have in place are not producing satisfying results.  

Co-founder of the Therapeutic, Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood or TIIN model, Paula Reif, also notes that Pew Research suggests that the type of family arrangement a child lives in is associated with a household’s economic situation. Recent Pew Research Center analysis found that 30% of solo mothers and their families are living in poverty compared with 17% of solo father families and 16% of families headed by a cohabiting couple. In comparison, 8% of married couple families are living below the poverty line.

The TIIN model offers a new approach that addresses the needs of multiple populations in one setting.  There is a natural synergy between needs and support for young and old. Seniors gain purpose and a safety net of support as they mentor and love younger generations in their intentional neighborhood.  Young people are mentored and have opportunity for onsite jobs and day care as they work toward their life goals. The first TIIN, under construction at Hope & A Future, is the brainchild of Karin Krause and Paula Reif.  This model came from lived experience and observations about how the generations can support one another. The inspired idea is to create staffed, intentional, intergenerational neighborhoods where young and old use their strengths to help serve each other’s needs.  Everyone is both helped and helpful. We have observed that being part of the solution to another person’s problem gives purpose, belonging and improved self-esteem. And when mutual support in the context of long term supportive relationships is combined with self-defined goal directed living–there is capacity to create flourishing generations of purpose.  Over the last 20 years, Karin Krause has shared her home with her biological family, seniors and staff. The family of friends created has watched the health of seniors improve as their interest in life is rekindled. When age groups live together in an accessible home with professional care and a sense of humor when dealing with the realities of the day to day–everyone blossoms.  Karin’s teenage daughters developed compassion and confided in and learned from senior residents. As adults th
ey are involved at Hope & A Future by choice! Health care costs for seniors go down as they become more active. Young people are enjoyed and encouraged, relationships are real, creativity and learning abound and all age groups flourish.   (See Krause family photos below.)

Yet, at the beginning of 2019 we feel like we have come full circle in our work to create the first TIIN.  We have worked on developing the first TIIN for 16 years. The first 9 years were spent telling people what we had learned and why we thought a neighborhood model could help  people. We worked to gain the support and needed income streams and approvals to start. For the last 6 years, we have run an award winning intergenerational group home for frail seniors and people with developmental disabilities that has gained the support of the community.  Live in staff include professionals, caregivers and household assistants. Live in staff receive a stable home and our residents receive a stable staff. We do not experience the effects of the healthcare staffing crisis other long term care settings are experiencing. Our residents’ feel safe and live meaningful lives.  When the time comes, they die in the presence of caring friends and family. Both staff and residents feel supported by the “Family of Friends” at Hope & A Future. Real life is shared around family style meals with young and old teasing, laughing, learning and crying together. Activities are rich and varied, based on the real interests of the household.  Karin and Rick Krause live in the house–making this a very real home. There was a time we did not think we could get approval to start–because we did not fit in a neat category for insurance or financing. People had to help us in unconventional ways. Pro bono professionals and community volunteers continue to help. Now we want to build the next phase and again we do not fit into conventional categories and there are roadblocks to contend with.

Working with an innovative emerging care model, requires true grit and the help of people willing to think outside of current financial, social and healthcare structures.  That is where you come in. If you are interested in becoming part of the solution, please plan to join Paula (on facetime) and Karin in person at Hope & A Future February 11th at 2pm.  We can enjoy a valentine cookie and talk about changing the world together.  

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