Monday, March 21, 2016

Milwaukee: Building Bridges of Understanding that Span the Generations - Best Intergenerational Communities Award Winner

Mosess Intergenerational Dance Performance
Nestled on the coast of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a big city with a small town feel, thanks to its unique neighborhoods and engaged residents working to promote quality of life for all ages.

In the early 80's, a 3-year-old girl named Katie helped the community to think intergenerational.

St. Ann Center, which launched on the city’s south side in 1983, initially offered just community-based adult day care for older adult clients in the basement of the Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.

One day, when Katie’s single mom, a St. Ann Center employee, couldn’t find daycare for her daughter, she brought Katie to work.

During the visit, Katie saw a client lapsing into a grand mal seizure. The 3-year-old immediately ran to the shaking man, jumped on his lap and gave him a big hug. And, with Katie’s hug, the man’s symptoms stopped—the seizure never occurred.

St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care
That’s when St. Ann Center’s intergenerational model of care was born, becoming the first intergenerational shared site of its kind in the nation and setting a strong foundation for a community that embraces the value of all ages and abilities.

Consequently, Milwaukee is now home to a host of intergenerational programs, including two Generations United Programs of Distinction: St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care and TimeSlips Creative Storytelling.

Through TimeSlips, a program of the Creative Trust Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) students are trained and partnered with community groups to facilitate storytelling with older adults, many with symptoms of memory loss.

The city’s other intergenerational initiatives include Aged to Perfection (an undergraduate class developed by UWM’s Center for Aging and Translational Research), The Arts at Home (an artist and student team that brings engagement to elders living alone) and Reach Out Reach In (teens develop daily activities for children and older adults).

The Intergenerational Council promotes intergenerational dialogues within and between the races and cultures. This year’s theme, “Turning Points,” encourages adults and youth to discuss key life decisions that affect the future of each individual and the community in which that resident lives.

Toddlers on a mission at Saint Johns on the
Lake Retirement Community
In 2015, The Milwaukee County Commission on Aging and partnering agencies hosted an intergenerational panel discussion and audience talkback in honor of Vel Phillips, the city’s first woman and African American official and judge and Wisconsin’s Secretary of State.

The ethnically and culturally mixed intergenerational panel discussed how the city’s past race relations affect Milwaukee residents today and how all ages can take lessons learned from the past to build a bright future together.

Additionally, Milwaukee, host city for the 2017 Global Intergenerational Conference, showed commitment to creating spaces that connect the generations.

Mayor Tom Barrett noted that “the City’s Villard Square Library project replaced an aging library with a new facility that includes housing for grandparents raising grandchildren.”

Reekaya Free Jenkins, an eighth- grader at Hope Christian School Prima, jumped at the opportunity to join the St. Ann Center Buddy Program, which connects youth (ages 11-15) with older adults suffering from severe developmental and physical disabilities.

“There were many older people I got to know,” she explained. “They were happy they had someone to share what life was like when they were growing up. I learned a lot from their stories. It was like a history lesson, only better. I had fun updating them on what’s happening with kids like me.”

L. Jane Shatto, who retired in 2012, was also inspired to work across the ages.

During her seven years of volunteering at City on a Hill, a nonprofit organization working with central city youth and families, she encountered too many youngsters who struggled with reading.

Interfaith RSVP Tutoring Program
Now, she works with second-graders in the Milwaukee Public Schools through InterFaith Older Adult Programs, which is funded by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

“I have seen improvement when additional help, encouragement and support are given,” Shatto noted.

Her rewards include watching a child, who previously struggled, read confidently. “When a child tells me about their latest test scores,” she explained, “or that they are moving to a higher reading group, I feel blessed.”

That and other blessings won over the Posner Foundation, which helped fund intergenerational programming at the Jewish Home and Care Center, where Milwaukee schoolchildren practice reading skills by reading to seniors.

“Many organizations work in our neighborhoods to ensure that people of all ages are able to share their talents and resources with each other,” Mayor Barrett said. “A community flourishes when youth and older adults have an opportunity to share life experiences.”


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