Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote: “We have to get the older people and grandparents back close to children if we are to restore a sense of community, knowledge of the past and a sense of future to today’s children.”
Along the same lines, a National Network for Child Care statement reads: “Our society has the tendency to separate people by age groups. …In an effort to reduce age segregation, many agencies and child-care programs are working to bring children and senior citizens together.”
You can count ELCA-affiliated social service agencies among them. Many that provide housing, health and long-term services, and other support to aging Americans also offer on-site children’s day-care centers. Others connect seniors to children and youth through activities, visitation, mentoring and volunteer programs.
Josephine Sunset Home is named after the wife of John Hals, a sawmill magnate who founded the retirement community more than a century ago. An hour north of Seattle in Stanwood, Wash., Josephine serves people of all ages, including 160 nursing home residents, 57 people in assisted living suites, and 249 children in day care and a Montessori classroom for 4- and 5-year-olds.
Children are “totally integrated into the nursing home,” said Linda Alumbaugh, director of child care services. She said Josephine’s approach is based on the facility’s layout — including windows in children’s classrooms to facilitate spontaneous interactions with seniors.
Residents pass the toddlers or “waddlers” classroom on the way to the dining room or to the social hour, she said, and often “there’s a waddler sticking his nose up against the window.” Smiles and laughter ensue.
Alumbaugh described pushing a snack cart down the hall with a 2-year-old girl in tow, handing out snacks to residents. Over time, the child formed a connection with a resident she called “Poppa,” perhaps because he reminded her of her grandfather. “She even knew his place in the dining room,” Alumbaugh said.
“Natural interactions are what make it work,” she added. “Kids can be themselves and residents can be themselves too. It’s a lot more meaningful.”
‘All people matter’
Not far from the Iowa and Wisconsin borders, Good Shepherd Lutheran Services in Rushford, Minn., provides nursing care, assisted living, senior housing and child care in a facility designed for intergenerational interaction. Seniors and children share a walking garden that connects to a playground.
“We try to focus on the idea that all people matter, no matter what their age,” said Jenny Carrier, director of the agency’s Good Shepherd Child Care.
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