Senior Sites Bringing Together Old and Young in Intergenerational Settings

The GreenFields Continuing Care Community last week welcomed a few people a bit younger than their typical demographic; actually, several generations younger.

The senior living campus in Lancaster has opened a 6,000-square-foot daycare center for the children of its employees, with operations handled by Imagination Station Child Care & Preschool, which has sites in Batavia, Elma, Alden and Leroy. Already, eight employees are using the service, and three more are signed up to start when they return from maternity leave.

Christopher Koenig, CEO at Niagara Lutheran Health System, which oversees GreenFields, said the program will also be available for drop-in care, when employees are called in for a shift last minute, or anytime child care plans are thrown into flux, such as when schools are closed.

“They can bring their kids with them and they don’t lose out on pay, and the patients don’t lose out on care,” he said.

First announced a year ago, the GreenFields program also has another benefit: Intergenerational interaction with older adults on the campus. It’s part of a growing trend at senior living campuses across the country. A report published last year by Generations United and the Eisner Foundation Harris found 89 percent of Americans think that serving both children/youth and older adults at the same location is a good use of resources.

GreenFields touts studies that show elderly residents who participate in intergenerational programs have increased feelings of well-being, overall life satisfaction and lower rates of depression. On the other side, children involved in such programs are 46 percent less likely to use illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to use alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

Already, residents have participated in programs with children, including a Friendsgiving program ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday; art programs such as homemade ornaments; and music and movement classes.

“Their faces just light up — the kids and the elderly,” said Kelly Kronbeck, president of Imagination Station. “Our whole purpose is to create that sense of purpose and being. It brings life to them, and for those who are there more at end-of-life, we’re bringing the complete opposite to it.”

The location has also provided opportunities for interaction with school-aged children at Imagination Station’s other sites, many of whom spent a day at GreenFields recently for a series of activities.

“The whole intergenerational piece brings it to a whole new level,” Kronbeck said. “It’s very intriguing to families.”

GreenFields may be the latest, but it’s not the first to try the concept: Heritage Ministries in Jamestown last year took over the Rolling Fields Elder Care Community in Conneautville, Pennsylvania, which offers an on-site daycare for employees. Though it’s a small program with only 10-12 children, 80 percent of them are children of employees.

“We do that because there’s not child care readily available in that area, so it truly is a recruitment and retention program for us there,” said David Smeltzer, president and CEO at Heritage Ministries.

In Jamestown, the agency’s Heritage Park Rehab and Skilled Nursing built a child care facility across the street from its campus in 2005 with similar goals. Children in the program would visit the nursing home a few days a week for exercise and recreation activities.

But because it was expensive to run, and there were other options in the city, it was mostly people from the community that used it versus employees and the organization in 2012 turned operations over to the local YMCA.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the interaction of kids and seniors to the extent we did before,” Smeltzer said. “The biggest benefit for the nursing home was watching the kids play and having that interaction with them personally.”

At the agency’s retirement community in Gerry, The Homestead, residents also have opportunities to interact with kids of all ages at its on-campus equestrian center and community center. Several residents spend time at the stables almost daily, interacting with students taking riding lessons.

“Intergenerational experience for our residents is always positive, so we try to do everything we can to make that happen,” Smeltzer said.

This article was originally published at BizJournals on December 3, 2019.