Generations of Hope

A way of life that makes a difference

Across the country, new intergenerational communities are finding creative ways to enfold the most vulnerable among us into networks of care and support. We're helping.


1To reclaim a future and restore hope, vulnerable people need a safe, secure, inclusive environment with neighbors they know, who understand them, and who will provide support; they also need opportunities to play indispensable roles in the lives of others.

Vulnerability

Vulnerable people experience multiple challenges that may include substance abuse, mental illness and emotional disorders, teenage pregnancy and parenting, or living much of their life in a neighborhood where they have been exposed to a culture of violence and vigilance. Far too often they are disconnected from (or lack) a strong supportive family and community.

The result is that vulnerable people frequently experience sustained forms of disadvantage, hardship, and loneliness as well as little if any sense of safety and security. The outcome can be life-long adverse consequences that threaten their well-being and lead to high psychosocial and economic costs.

Conventional services are not enough

Typical social service interventions work to provide a “safety net.” This term generally refers to four categories of assistance: food, income, housing subsidies, and health. Providing this assistance is largely agency-driven and relies on professional expertise to be effective. It rarely involves drawing upon the transformative power of family, friends, and neighbors.

Re-establishing hope

The purpose of a GHC is deceptively simple: neighbors, including a large number of older adults and vulnerable residents provide indispensable friendship and support to each other. By embedding all residents in a web of kindness and support on which they can depend, GHCs do what social services alone cannot – create a daily environment of care, connection, and continuity.

Ultimately, it is caring relationships that will reestablish hope – that will allow vulnerable people to envision a future where they will not have to ask, as a child in the juvenile justice system once did: Who do you turn to when you can’t count on yourself and have learned through experience you can’t count on anyone else?


2The presence of three or more generations is critical to a GHC’s purpose. Each generation has a different world view that provides a unique perspective on people and problems.

In a GHC, children bring joy and meaning to the daily life of older adults, and parents allow the older adults to become “grandparents” to the children, while also supporting one another.

It is people of multiple generations, and the cumulative effects arising from complex intergenerational relationships and engagement, that lead to the establishment of a culture of effective care and mutual concern which becomes the bedrock of a strong, healthy GHC.

Residents enjoy each others’ company, and teach themselves how to provide support based on each person’s needs and circumstances and on what he or she brings into the community from previous experiences. What one generation sees as a concern, another may recognize as an unimportant idiosyncrasy or passing phase.

We have come to believe that the energy, care, and resilience brought to people’s lives by multiple generations is necessary for a community to thrive. To illustrate this, listen to the voices of residents:

Debbie (a parent):

It’s just like we are all one big family.  And they talk about the seniors being grandparents for the kids, but they have filled a void in my life, so they not only help the kids, you know, they are there for all of us.

Shirley (a parent) :

To all Hope Parents and Grandparents:

I would like to thank you all for the help and support which you have given to me and my family in the two years that we have been living here. A special thanks to Helen and Pat Hall for being there when I needed a friend, for standing by us through the adoption of Baron, being grandparents for our other kids, and watching them when I needed a sitter or just some time to myself.

Thanks to Mr. Lee [a GHC grandparent] for being someone special to Baron, to Mr. Hal [a GHC grandparent] for being there for Jackson, and to Marie, Jeanette, and Joyce [other parents in the neighborhood] for all the help and support you have given me and for all the prayers you have sent up for me and my family. You are very special friends!

Shana (a young teenager, who wrote the following poem) :

Never Too Old

Never too old to have a birthday

Never too old to have a snack

Never too old to play and

Never too old to carry a backpack!


3

Living in a community intentionally designed to incorporate differences is not always easy, but the rewards can be powerful.

Strength in diversity

When Hope Meadows was first created, its founder, Dr. Brenda Krause Eheart, wanted a diverse neighborhood – a place composed of people of different ages, races, and socioeconomic status. Further, she wanted to avoid a neighborhood where children were labeled as foster children. Her initial vision for diversity at Hope Meadows has been both realized and consistently expanded over the community’s 20-year history.

Over the years as older adults and new families have moved into the neighborhood, they have found it nearly impossible to tell which of the children came to Hope Meadows through foster care, with their birth families, or were previously adopted.

Relationships become prominent

Over time, many individuals with a variety of challenges have come to call Hope Meadows home. There are always a few seniors who are wheelchair-bound and others who need to carry oxygen tanks. One parent at Hope Meadows had cerebral palsy. Children have arrived with multiple developmental disabilities including autism, sensory integration disorder, and cognitive impairments, as well as severe emotional and behavioral problems.

These differences would seem to present insurmountable challenges to most communities, but this diversity has made Hope Meadows a stronger community, as differences become less salient and personal relationships more prominent.

In this time of racial segregation, age segregation, and residential segregation, GHCs represent a new step in uniting rather than dividing people.


3In a GHC, older adult residents occupy roles and engage in activities that amplify their standing as elders.

The engagement of older adults in a GHC strengthens their commitment to the neighborhood and the formation of meaningful relationships. On a daily basis they find themselves “giving back” and “making a difference.” This becomes a “way of life” giving these, the last years of their life, real meaning, purpose, and joy.

Older adults are obligated to engage regularly in a variety of supportive activities (mentoring, tutoring, gardening, etc.), while also being a caring friend, neighbor, and surrogate grandparent. It is this doing, sharing, and caring that gives life its true significance as illustrated by the following examples of daily life at Hope Meadows.

Formal engagement

The following article was written about the engagement, over a summer, of older adults at Hope Meadows.

Hope Meadows starts the summer with a trip to Washington, D.C.

A Hope senior arranged all of the transportation, lodging, and sightseeing. The seniors who went on the trip were true “grandparents’” helping to watch over the kids the entire time, a major task to undertake, and accomplished in splendid fashion. The doing, sharing, caring attitude of the seniors really showed!

Throughout the summer seniors did interior painting in houses for incoming residents. Others stayed busy mowing grass, trimming bushes, weed-eating around foundations, removing grass from cracks in the sidewalks, and planting and maintaining flower beds on Hope’s formidable 22 acres. As a result, we have the best maintained neighborhood in town.

Senior assistance with the children this summer was overwhelming. The playground was monitored daily. Some days you could see seniors and children playing croquet, basketball, soccer and throwing Frisbees. The community center was always busy with the library and computer room open. The month of July was especially active, with one of our retired teachers and her husband, plus numerous other ladies helping with a host of activities featuring the theme of “The Ocean.” Puppets talked, sand castles were built, sand art was created, songs were sung, and games were played.

Informal engagement

Following is another example of engagement as told to us by a long-time resident of Hope Meadows:

I picked up Shawn after school and took him to my sister’s farm for a visit. We met my nephew who looked down at the 6-year-old from the cab of his truck which was two stories high and said, “We have work to do!” Shawn grew 6 inches while riding in that giant truck. Then they got to a big field and my whole family—three generations—was there to greet him. Word of his coming had spread over CB radios.

Later Shawn hugged all those big men and told Grandpa Bruno that he love him. He brought such joy to my family. They were really touched by him, and it was so gratifying for me. On our way home Shawn started to tell me about his past, and said he had never seen so many nice daddies. He is one sweet little guy.

As these stories suggest, engagement becomes more than volunteering or participating in activities. It also involves being a caring friend, neighbor and surrogate grandparent. The result is that engagement becomes a deeply gratifying way of life.

 


5A transformational leader empowers all residents of a GHC to become active partners in working to accomplish the neighborhood’s mission.

Shifting the primary initiative for care and support

Generations of Hope Communities are designed to augment social services by shifting the primary initiative for care and support from professional service providers back to the neighborhood, creating a way of life where everyone, including vulnerable people, can contribute and succeed.

To accomplish this, GHC leaders must tap the positive transformative power of intergenerational community living — where the gifts and talents of ordinary people of all ages and vulnerabilities become available in new ways, resulting in creative solutions to social challenges. When responsibilities and power are shared, the community develops a sense of pride, ownership of its mission, and a powerful sense of connectedness and neighborliness.

Building capacity

Building community capacity is different from familiar service delivery paradigms and can be difficult to master. GHC leaders have to walk a fine line between taking charge and standing back, recognizing that they can be most successful when their work is characterized by consent rather than control. Consent requires building relationships that are collaborative, reciprocal, trusting, and friendly.

Ultimately, for leaders of GHCs to succeed, they must be comfortable playing a supportive background role, and genuinely respect and enjoy being with people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. As a parent at Hope Meadows said, “This is not just a job; it has to be about who you are.”


The design and operation of a GHC should be based on and continuously informed by emerging knowledge of how to promote flourishing for people of all ages.

All programs, practices, and policies in a GHC are grounded in what theory and research has shown to

• help children thrive
• support family well-being
• promote the health and happiness of older adults
• encourage community cohesiveness.

Theory and research

Ultimately we want the children and youth, parents, and older adults including the frail elderly — as well as the community as a whole — to flourish. We believe, as Martin Seligman writes in his compelling book, Flourish, “when individuals flourish, health, productivity, and peace follow” (2011, p. 240).

Seligman writes that both well-being theory and happiness theory include the core elements of positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and positive relationships with positive relationships being the most important. “Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up” (p. 20).

Children, families, and older adults

Research is pretty consistent and straight forward on what children need to flourish. All children need nurturing, stable, and consistent relationships. They need to feel that they belong and that someone will always be there for them, loving them or caring deeply about them unconditionally. They also need a safe and predictable environment.

Strong families are the key to providing children with consistency and care. To be strong, families need adequate emotional, social, and financial resources within a safe and stable place. They also need caring older adults as friends and neighbors. And older adults to age well, need purposeful engagement and meaningful relationships in their daily lives.

Strong neighborhoods

Much of what makes a community a good place to raise children also makes it a good place to grow old. Both families and older adults need  neighborhoods where there is an atmosphere of cooperation and connectedness, where people care about (not just for) each other, and where shared values are embedded in history, traditions, and memories. In these neighborhoods, kindness abounds. As a resident of Hope Meadows once said:

I think the reason people become close here is because of the love for the children and the caring for each other and what each other is trying to do—the seniors caring for the families and what they are trying to do with the children, and the families caring for the seniors because they know we are trying to help them in any and every way we can.

The real challenge

Because much of the theory and research is almost intuitive when we think about our own children, parents, and close friends and neighbors, over time it can become automatic or simply taken for granted.

Be mindful, however, that there always will be a constant pull from bureaucratic systems to be guided by their rules and practices—a way of thinking and doing which is not designed (for example) to raise children and provide the stability they need to become healthy, productive adults; or to offer older adults a purposeful life and make them an important part of daily living in a thriving community.

In a GHC, caring relationships among neighbors must often take precedence over more shortsighted rules and practices of specialists and systems outside the neighborhood, and a grounding in theory and research can prove to be a powerful asset in such situations.

References

Following is an incomplete list of key references for theory and research that has guided the development of the GHC Model:

Benson, P.L. (2006). All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Brazelton, T.B. and Greenspan, S.I. (2000). The irreducible needs of children: What every child must have to grow, learn, and flourish. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Gardner, J.W. (1995). The new leadership agenda. In K. Gozdz (Ed.) Community building: Renewing spirit and learning in business (pp. 283-303). San Francisco: Sterling and Stone.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.

McKnight, J. (1995). The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. NY: BasicBooks.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of CA Press.

Noddings, N. (2002). Starting at home: Caring and social policy. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of CA Press.

Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. New York: Dell Publishing.

Schorr, L.B. (1989). Within our reach: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage. New York: Anchor Books.

Schorr, L.B. (1997). Common purpose: Strengthening families and neighborhoods to rebuild lives. New York: Anchor Books.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press.

Shonkoff, J. & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Thomas, B. (2014). Second wind. Navigating the passage to a slower, deeper, and more connected life. New York: Simon & Schuster.


4In a GHC, special attention must be paid to the scale and physical design of the neighborhood so that relationships are easy to form and maintain. These relationships, across and within generations, and among a diverse population, are the principle means through which the community does its work.

Physical dimensions support social dimensions

The purposeful integration of the physical dimensions of a GHC provides the context for the formation and development of the social dimensions of a caring community, allowing for the accommodation of diversity, adaptation, and crisis intervention. Examples of GHC design principles that support these social dimensions include:

  • all buildings are geographically contiguous
  • housing for people of all ages, vulnerabilities, and life experiences are intermixed
  • an intergenerational community center is at the geographic “heart” of the neighborhood
  • no common space is designated for the exclusive use of one group ( e.g. no senior center)
  • neighborhoods should be designed for no more than 150 residents

Diversity & Adaptation

Not only are common areas needed where residents may convene, but the flow of foot, car, and bicycle traffic through the neighborhood needs to increase the odds of residents encountering one another. The informal relationships that take root in this way constitute the social core of the community. Likewise more formal engagement through, for example, after school activities or neighborhood celebrations and potlucks, require thoughtful design of indoor and outdoor gathering space – design that accommodates residents of all ages from toddlers to frail octogenarians, and who represent diversity of class and ethnicity.

In addition, space must be able to accommodate the changing needs of the people who live in a GHC. Home interiors and the physical layout of the community take into account the space needs of a growing family, the reduced mobility that often comes with age and older adults’ desire to age-in-community, and young children’s need for play areas as well as space for “hanging out” when they are older.

Following basic physical design principles to support neighborliness and engagement among all GHC residents also facilitates neighbors first in a time of crisis. As one GHC parent recently said: “You know if there’s a problem or a crisis or something you can run right next door.  You’ve got somebody.”

Accommodating diversity, adaptation, and crisis intervention is a tall order. Rarely are housing developments designed specifically to address these challenges by facilitating neighboring and engagement.


2A GHC neighborhood is a place where those who are vulnerable (people with developmental disabilities, youth exiting the foster care system, wounded warriors, frail elders, etc.) are viewed as friends and family members—not as wards, clients, or non-contributing community members. How does this happen?

Daily encounters

In a GHC there is a core belief that everyone’s life has significance and meaning when we change our perception of what it means to be vulnerable—when, as the mother of a child with severe disabilities said, “we think differently about our relationships and responsibilities to one another.”

To change how we think about people perceived as vulnerable—to see them as we see our loved ones, as people whose lives have meaning and purpose and who give our lives meaning and purpose, we have to get to know them. And to do this, we need, as Susan Pinker writes in her provocative book, The Village Effect (2014), to have “constant face-to-face contact.” It is this, as Pinker labels “in-the-flesh encounters”, that tie us together.

Looking through a positive lens

Once we really get to know people through daily interactions, relationships form and we no longer first see differences and vulnerabilities, but rather we see the people we have come to know as friends, neighbors, and family–as individuals who help us and whom we help. And this, as one GHC resident said, makes us “feel a part of something” and gives our lives meaning.

By seeing vulnerable people through this new lens, a positive lens, the community evolves into a caring living environment for everyone. It comes to reflect what the philosopher John Dewey suggested in 1902: that what the best and wisest parents want for their own children, that must the community want for all its children.

Ultimately a GHC becomes a neighborhood where there is a constant supply of kindness in circulation—where differences fade and caring about each other is just part of daily life and being a good neighbor.


1We all need others in our lives who care about us, and care deeply, yet too many people are leading isolated and lonely lives. In a GHC, all adults strive to provide for each other and for the children consistent, predictable, nurturing relationships that foster well-being even in times of change, crisis, or suffering.

Embracing relationships

Caring relationships are essential to happiness. As GHC residents tell us, they can even transform a person’s life. Jim, A GHC resident, spoke about the transformation in his life due to relationships.

We have been at Hope for almost four years… We had retired and we were undecided as to what we wanted to do. You get to a point in your life; you know you feel like, ‘Well, I am used up. Nothing’s left.’

But then we got involved with Hope… It’s so gratifying to see the changes in these children and to feel like we have a part in that. We see the children come in and realize the needs they have. They are so hungry for love and attention. And then we give this to them. And it is so rewarding.

I know the primary focus is on the children, but they also make us feel so good because they are concerned about us. I can hardly step outdoors without one of the children asking, ‘How is Grandma Mary doing? Is she feeling okay?’ And they are real concerned…. Things like that make you feel a part of something.

Caring, sharing communities

In a caring community there is an atmosphere of cooperation and connectedness – a spirit of shared or collective responsibility where there is awareness that neighbors need and care about each other. As one GHC elder said:

We share about the children, you know, talk about the children. We talk about the children at breakfast and when we go out for lunch. We sit up there in the library and talk. If we come across a minor problem, we talk it over. I’ll call and I’ll say, “Well, what do you think I should do?” We help each other with the kids. You helped me last week, you know, and I’ll help you. That’s what we do. We share. It’s caring an sharing. It’s a caring and sharing community.

GHCs embrace the power of relationships, believing that caring relationships and caring communities give life its deepest significance.

   News & Updates

NPR Morning Edition : August 4, 2015

Intentional neighboring model featured on NPR’s Morning Edition

GHDC : July 15, 2015

Genesis resident recruitment underway in DC

The Eisner Foundation : October 22, 2014

Bridge Meadows winner of Eisner Prize

NEWSWEEK : September 24, 2014

Newsweek article features GHDC and several sites

GHDC : June 11, 2014

New books feature GHDC and Hope Meadows

   Recently posted

GHDC : May 24, 2016

Assessing the social impact of intentional neighboring

GHDC White Paper Series: Volume 5, Number 1 : August 15, 2015

A fuller response to vulnerability

GHDC : March 18, 2015

Evaluating intentional neighboring

Brenda Krause Eheart : February 10, 2015

Restoring the missing dimensions of care

Brenda Krause Eheart : December 17, 2014

The recovery of neighboring