Elder volunteers will help care for young children

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sat, 07/29/2006 - 19:00.

In exploring models of intergenerational living and learning excellence, I searched the excellent Knowledgeplex: the Affordable Living and Community Development Resource for Professionals, and came up with some valuable models elsewhere we may embrace planning the Star Complex Community. One that is a necessity is Intergenerational care for young children, before reaching school age. Read about what is being done in Fort Wayne, Indiana below.

Where generations meet: Elder volunteers will help care for young children at new center that opens Aug. 7

Jul. 11--It all got started on a restaurant napkin more than two years ago.

That's how Lutheran Social Services executive director Stan Veit described the beginnings of Fort Wayne's first intergenerational child-care center, which opens Aug. 7.

A collaborative project of LSS, Early Childhood Alliance and Lutheran Homes Inc., the $2.8 million Children's Village will bring together up to 120 infants, toddlers and preschoolers with dozens of elder volunteers who live in the adjacent Lutheran Home and Concord Village, all overseen by an educated, experienced staff.

Children's Village is connected to Lutheran Home, the nursing home and assisted-living facility at 6701 S. Anthony Blvd. "This campus will be teeming with life and with children," said the Rev. Dwight Anderson, executive director of Lutheran Homes Inc., which operates Lutheran Home and the independent-living complex Concord Village. But during ribbon-cutting ceremonies Monday, Anderson reminded those who have been involved in the village's conception that it is not an end point but a beginning.

Executive director Kathi Likeness, who formerly served nine years as the alliance's executive director, agreed, saying, "It is just a building, an environment planned for learning. It's the people who are part of this who will make it happen ... through the relationships with loving, caring, nurturing adults."

Two existing child-care centers the alliance operates in southeast Fort Wayne -- on Turtle Creek Drive and at Grace Lutheran Church on South Anthony Boulevard -- will close.

The children they serve have been offered the option to transfer to the new facility, said Madeline Baker, the alliance's current executive director. Neither of the old centers has space to accommodate infants, and research conducted by the alliance found care for that age group is what is most needed in southeast Fort Wayne.

Mayor Graham Richard, one of several community and project leaders wielding children's blunt-end scissors to cut the red ribbon to the entrance of the one-story building, said the involvement of seniors who can read stories, rock babies and spend one-on-one time with the children would be critical.

"There are youngsters growing up in homes where no one speaks English," he said, noting area schools have identified 77 languages spoken in their classrooms. "Sometimes grandparents can touch the child in a way the parent can't," he said.

Concord Village residents Irma Dressler, 86, and her husband, Earl, 87, can't wait to begin volunteering at Children's Village.

"We don't have any grandchildren living here," Irma Dressler said, noting their 15 grandchildren and great-grandchildren all live more than 100 miles away. Although they can't dote on their own grandkids on a daily basis, "We're going to be very involved here. We say, ‘What is it you need, and we'll do it,'" she said.

Meals will be prepared by the Lutheran Home dietary department. Toddlers and infants have two enclosed playgrounds, and there is a separate play yard for the 3- to 6-year-olds. The center is licensed by the state, and national accreditation is in the works. Other amenities at Children's Village will include restrooms in every room; covered, carpeted porches connecting classroom and play yards; a large gathering room; two intergenerational activity rooms; a clubhouse; and secure entryways requiring keypad codes. Various parenting classes also will be offered on-site.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne School of Education professors Phyllis Agnes and Jane Leatherman will head up a team of student and faculty researchers studying the impact of intergenerational child care on attitudes of young children toward older adults, particularly those with disabilities. Landmark studies of a large intergenerational child-care center in California have found attitudes toward older adults are much improved when the children have frequent, hands-on involvement with them, Leatherman said.

Children's Village will provide practical experience for IPFW early-childhood-education students, and other projects such as studying administrative methods at child-care centers will be planned for the future, Leatherman said.

"This center will not only serve southeast Fort Wayne but will be a national model," said Veit, Lutheran Social Services executive director.

Despite the noonday heat at Monday's ribbon-cutting, Baker said the event made her think more of Christmas. This year, she said, "Christmas really came early to Fort Wayne, Allen County and southeast Fort Wayne."

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Take a tour

-- Families interested in care for infants, toddlers or preschoolers can schedule a private tour of Children's Village, 6701 S. Anthony Blvd., and visit with staff by calling 744-0006.

-- The center accepts federal child-care vouchers administered by Community Action of Northeast Indiana, Title XX funding for low-income families, and private pay. Enrollment fee is $30.

-- Upcoming open houses: 2-7 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-noon and 4-7 p.m. Thursday