The large dim-lit atrium was filled with young and elderly clients, employees and the live entertainer for that day, Mr. Pickles. Mr. Pickles stood before the crowd in his green pants and neatly crafted, white double-buttoned shirt with a huge green pickle pasted on the upper right. As always, he was accompanied by his karaoke machine, gold trumpet and khaki-colored hat.
The audience ranged from about 4 months to 50-plus, but by the sound you wouldn’t even notice the dramatic difference in age groups. Mr. Pickles pranced around the shiny waxed floor, singing karaoke and playing his trumpet whenever there was a break in the music. He handed his mic to the children and adults in the crowd; that hyped everyone even more. He mostly sang throwback blues songs, so of course, when he gave the children the mic, they only jumped, screamed and became excited at the sound and echo of their own voices. The adults who could stand laughed and danced along to the music, often grabbing the mic and singing karaoke themselves, perhaps in memory of their youth.
At times the childcare teachers would walk the mobile toddlers to the adult clients and allow them to either dance and sing together or simply just sit and clap for Mr. Pickles as he performed. The infants were mostly held or placed in mobile cribs until the program was over, unless one of the adults requested to hold them. It was apparent that the adult clients were overjoyed and enlightened to be able to interact with the children which is the sole purpose of the program: unite the generations to promote wisdom through interactions.
St. Ann Center
Programs like this one are held every Friday at the only intergenerational day care center in Milwaukee: St. Ann Center. Sister Edna Lonergan founded St. Ann Center as an adult care facility in 1983, in the basement of St. Ann Health Center, operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, according to the center’s website. (The location is now Juniper Court, an assisted living facility at 3209 S Lake Drive in St Francis.) In 1999 St. Ann expanded to combine an adult and child day care center, becoming the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in a new building, the Stein Campus, at 2801 E. Morgan Ave. Its mission statement calls the center to create a caring community, show compassion, reverence all of creation and make peace.
While St. Ann welcomes any children who may need day care assistance, its adult department specializes in caring for frail adult and elderly clients with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.
“We stand out like a beacon in the night,” said St. Ann’s Chief Operating Officer, Diane Beckley. “There’s awesome daycare centers for adults as well as for children, but the one piece that nobody can match, is the piece that brings those populations together.”
Beckley said that it’s important to expose children to intergenerational programming during their formative years in order for them to learn acceptance and tolerance for someone with a disability. “It teaches them what it’s like to help someone with a disability and be around an older adult,” she said. And it enlightens the adults as well and increases their tolerance and patience for small children.
The intergenerational center offers childcare for children, infants up to 4 years old. They also offer a school age program (ages 5-12 and up to 17 with special needs) and a buddy program (starting at 11) for children up to age 15.
St. Ann has recently opened a second location, Bucyrus Campus on Northside, near one of Milwaukee’s most impoverished neighborhoods: 53206.
“This neighborhood was chosen because of what we saw as a need here in the 53206-zip code,” said Beckley. That need, she said, was both for child and adult care and for employment as well for people within the community.
Beckley said the center’s location is also convenient for its employees living nearby, and “it helps people to have that sense of dignity about themselves because they can earn a living wage right within their community.”
St. Ann Center -Bucyrus officially opened its childcare department Sept. 1, 2015, and its adult care department one month later. The center is located at 2450 W. North Ave., only about 20 minutes north of UW-Milwaukee’s campus. The 80,000 square-foot building has two levels. The first level consists of the nurse’s office, adult and childcare rooms, kitchen, an open shop for employees and visitors to grab a snack, and the administrative offices. In addition, there’s an open atrium that’s filled with bikes, hula-hoops, and balls for the children to play and even an inside ball-pit. On the second floor, there’s a medical and dentist clinic as well as class and meeting rooms.
However, though the center has many beautiful features, it’s the positive and calm educational environment that attracted one of St. Ann’s employees, Natasha Phillips, who has been working in childcare for eight years.
Phillips was first hired as a teacher at St. Ann. Since then, she has been promoted to become their Curriculum Specialist. Admittedly, though, Phillips said that while she enjoys being employed at St. Ann, much of her joy comes from knowing that her two children are receiving quality care as well as getting the experience to interact with older adults.
Phillips said that the intergenerational program was another thing that attracted her to the center. “A lot of parents may not get the opportunity to have their children around older adults, so that’s something that children can experience here at St. Ann.” She said that her youngest baby was a part of St. Ann since she was three months old; she’s 1 now. “First, she was afraid of older adults, but now, she’s able to interact with them.”
The addition of St. Ann into the neighborhood creates a facility in which older adults and children from 53206 can come and be a part of. Phillips said that she has enjoyed having the chance to educate and leave a positive impact on the children from the community she’s worked with.
While the St. Ann’s Bucyrus campus is still under construction, Beckley said there’s much more to come.
“The center will soon be opening a swimming pool, gymnasium, band shell, and even a park not only for its clients, but for the community as well,” she said. “We center will be adding a new Alzheimer’s unit, a multi-fiber art room for knitting, crochet, etc., a beauty salon, more childcare rooms, and a respite care unit with nine bedrooms.”
The respite unit will be used for emergency situations, offering care to patients from one night up to 28 nights, according to Beckley.
St. Ann Center is open Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. to fulfill its mission and serve its community by “nurturing a sense of purpose in our clients and giving them an exciting reason to get up in the morning,” in the words of the center’s website.
Said Phillips: “It’s definitely one of a kind.”