While we have a pot-luck and house concert the second Friday of every month, this mid-week party was out of the ordinary. It was planned because of two very special visitors. Brenda Krause Eheart of Champaign Illinois and Deb Fink of Spokane Washington. Brenda is the founder of Hope Meadows, a staffed neighborhood she started in 1994–with the goal of providing permanent homes for children stuck in the foster system. Brenda was able to purchase out of use family housing built on an Air Force base, from the Pentagon! Families willing to adopt three to four children received housing, the support of each other, the neighborhood staff psychologist and Brenda. Seniors were offered low cost housing in exchange for volunteering at the afterschool program and taking on the role of grandparents. Hope Meadows nurtured community minded children that learned to their potential. The model also gave seniors purpose, belonging and improved health! Deb Finck is the Executive Director of Building Ohana—she is working to develop an inclusive intergenerational community for persons with autism and developmental disabilities. These two people came to see what we are working on and to experience the Hope & A Future culture. I felt the best way to introduce who we are is to have one of our signature parties. The party was mid-week and invitations were extended to our Family of Friends! Residents, families of current and former residents, pro bono professionals, volunteers, donors and our board of directors. Many could not make it, but many came! April 4th also happened to be my husband’s 60th birthday! At the party, with so many wonderful guests, we were overwhelmed by the fact that we have a wonderful life!
The next morning, as we sat around our kitchen table with morning coffee and sunshine pouring in—both Deb and Brenda searched for words to explain what they had experienced. Deb said she woke up at 3AM wondering if part of what makes Hope & A Future so special is that there is a real family at the center of the work. Brenda and Deb both noted that a safe loving family is the building block of a healthy society. It is true that the idea for an intergenerational adult family home started in our home. As I am writing this, I am thinking it may have started without our awareness! A woman who has long since become one of our best friends shared our home for a time, when our first daughter was only a year old and she was a young adult. Later, she re-joined our home as a single parent, newly released from the hospital with her infant son. Although we now reside in different states and she has been married for close to a couple of decades, the love and relationship we share remains extremely important and we visit often. Our family of friends expanded when we decided to move a senior who was a private duty client of mine into our home in 2001—after the death of her husband. Once we started caring for seniors in our home, we never stopped. In 2003 work began in earnest on the Hope & A Future Business Plan. The plan is to develop a Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood or TIIN. It was written by me and my friend Paula Reif, who specializes in family life education. We worked under the direction of a counselor from the WI Small Business Administration. In 2012, 9 years later and with the support and encouragement of many Rick and I moved from our private home to Hope & A Future’s non-profit property. Our adult children and the Krause Family Band remain active participants in the life and culture of Hope & A Future. So perhaps a strong family that enjoys bringing others into their extended family of friends is a piece of what people experience when they join the Hope & A Future Family of Friends. Perhaps people also feel the history of love and encouragement from every donor and pro bono professional that has helped! Maybe all of that combined with God’s smile on this beautiful farmstead is Hope & A Future’s unique DNA! You will have to visit to decide!
An amazing discovery occurred during our visit. Elizabeth Sewell was the first senior my family moved into our home. I knew that Brenda had known Elizabeth’s husband, William H Sewell PhD—a sociologist known for initiating the WI longitudinal study and his research in the sociology of inequality. The sociology building on the UW Madison Campus carries his name. Brenda shared some of her history with Bill as an educator and advisor. But she shared something else that affected me profoundly. She told me that where she had really gotten to know Bill and Liz was at the parties they hosted at their home for graduate students and their families. I was so overwhelmed when she shared this that I had to wait to discuss the topic later. Eventually, I explained to Brenda that although I had a vision to create a staffed neighborhood setting when I met Bill, the resolve to try to develop it did not come for another seven years. I had been hired to provide private duty care for Liz—who was suffering from multi-infarct dementia and Bill wanted to care for her at home.
In the course of time, I asked Bill if there were things he missed doing with Liz that I could help them do. He brought up the parties that he and Liz had hosted for graduate students and their families when he was the head of the sociology department. He talked about the students who often brought guitars and the fun of visiting and watching the children grow. I told Bill that I had children and my family had guitars and that if he wanted to host such a party, I could invite some friends and he could invite friends and we would see how it went. The parties were an instant success. My husband and daughters and friends of ours brought instruments and sang, I cooked and Bill invited friends. We had a party in their home every week and when the weather was nice we held them in parks. We continued the parties when Bill and Liz eventually moved into a continuum of care complex. One week Bill told me of a Think Tank he had been invited to with scholars who were coming from around the world. I asked when it was being held and he told me it would interfere with one of our parties so he told them he could not come. My jaw dropped and I told Bill we could easily re-schedule. His reply astounded me, “No, I would rather have our party. I feel better and more energetic for days after those parties. I know what the scholars are likely to say. But I never know what the children are going to say! I would rather be at our party!” Before Bill died, we had talked a couple of times about me taking Liz into my home if he were to die first. He did die first and I began looking into bringing Liz into our home. At that time, our youngest daughter was in early grade school and had attended the intergenerational parties for over half of her life. After Bill died she kept saying, “I don’t know what we are going to do. Now that Bill has died, I don’t know what we are going to do.” When I asked her what she meant, she said, “Every week it was like we went to our own little island for our party. Now it feels like Bill walked to one end of our island and sawed it off and floated away. And now I do not know what we are going to do.” I asked if it would help if we kept having the parties. She said it would, so we did. For years and years, we had these parties and a community formed around them—they are an important part of who we are today. As I watched teen-agers and young families attend regularly and express the fact that, originally, they came to do something nice for old people. But over time they realized their conversations with seniors were making them more thoughtful parents. Teen-agers and even homeless teens came. I saw an unmet need for bringing the generations together. When I found out that Brenda, who had experienced true community as a child and as a young adult, had also attended the very parties that inspired our intergenerational parties and neighborhood development–I was a bit undone. It was as if across time and place we had experienced the same thing with two of the same people. And we had independently come to some of the same conclusions about helping vulnerable populations. It takes relationships.
When I first started talking about bringing the generations together in a creative staffed neighborhood setting that would allow young and old to use their strengths to help serve each other’s needs—people would say “Why would you want to bring young and old together. They will bug each other.” Now people are seeing the benefit for both groups. Scholars and researchers point to the mental and physical benefits for mixing age groups in safe settings. It is my experience that enjoying diversity and sharing life with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures adds spice to life. At Hope & A Future we are combining best practices of care and support with long term committed relationships in the context of diversity and everyday life. I believe that helping while being helped builds relationships and the self-esteem needed to overcome life’s obstacles. We need the social capital and resource of each other. We need to love our neighbors in tangible ways. Helping is good for us as individuals and good for society.
That Brenda and I shared comparable experiences and relationships during different times and also came to similar conclusions is profound. That we have seen success is encouraging. We simply need to re-look at where and how we build neighborhoods and where we provide services to better care for and enjoy each other. Deb wants this for her son and ot
hers like him. Loneliness and unmet needs are everywhere. Building communities where needs are met and joy is deep is possible. With the resource of each other, so much is possible! If you want to continue the conversation, please join us in the garden or at the second Friday of the Month potluck and house concert at Hope & A Future!
As for me, I think it is time to go back to the future and learn from our pioneering ancestors. We are more likely to survive together than alone in the wilderness! Loving your neighbor as yourself, is as good for you as it is for your neighbor! At Hope & A Future we plan to enjoy each other’s creativity and live a richer life together! Young and old, rich and poor, different colors of skin—we have one thing in common; we are all just folks needing a friend! XOX!