Increased Health-related Quality of Life for Families with Young Children at Hope & A Future
This year we have been blessed by many in our community who have volunteered at community events on our behalf. Seeing our extended intergenerational community pull together has been inspirational and thought provoking. We’ve been encouraged by our community of volunteers-young and old.
Over memorial day weekend, we were one of 130 charities benefiting from this event, that has raised more than $1,500,000 for local organizations since 1983. Volunteering as moms with teenagers at the Zero Waste Stations was a great way to reinforce the importance of recycling and community service. Thanks also for the organizers of this creative event which infuses so much back in our community while encouraging the spirit of volunteering with $8/volunteer hour being donated to registered non-profit organizations.
Many of you joined us on June 3rd to enjoy the game and to help sell raffle tickets for our 50/50 fundraiser. Again, this was a great opportunity to engage our youth in intergenerational collaboration and volunteering.
Work Days & Pool Days at Hope & A Future
Every Thursday evening from 5:30 to 7:30pm, volunteers show up to work in our garden and on the grounds. With the hot summer days we've been having, cooling off in the pool after all of their hard work is necessary! Volunteer coordinator, Lauren Grisa, has even been bringing her son and friends with young kids to cool off during these hot days. From 9 weeks to 90 years, we love sharing our pool with our family of friends.
Intergernational Community, Impacting the Future
This past year, we were fortunate to partner with Aeron Adams, a Registered Nurse and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, who completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For her final project as a doctoral candidate, Aeron created a comprehensive evaluation plan to assess outcomes of Hope & A Future’s proposed Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood (TIIN). This plan enables us to gauge the efficacy of the TIIN as a therapeutic intergenerational environment serving both seniors and low Socio-Economic Status (SES) families and to become the first intergenerational neighborhood in the United States that will have a tailored evaluation plan in place from its inception. Aeron also provided us with a literature review, the substance of which we have been sharing with you over the past year.
Voices of our Community Series
In addition to Aeron’s work, we conducted interviews with residents, their families and caregivers, and family members of former residents. These conversations have uncovered several common themes, confirming our perspective on what Hope & A Future is providing to its residents and community members. We had three insights from these interviews last year:
1) Families of residents have had increased confidence in the care being provided.
2) Residents experienced increased healthcare-related quality of life Intentional, intergenerational community utilizes social connection as a way to improve quality of life, health, and sustainability. Higher levels of social support and connection are associated with better health throughout the lifespan. For optimal well-being, people need to help as much as they need to be helped.
3) The Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood (TIIN) at Hope & A Future is distinct from other programs. It adds unique value to residents and the broader community. Bringing people together from different ages and backgrounds creates a unique mix of talents and resources also known as social capital, where everyone has something to offer. The TIIN helps to promote intergenerational social connections through its built environment and programming. Shared grounds, gardens, and spaces, combined with community meals and neighborhood activities, create a wealth of opportunity for strong bonds to form.
Currently we serve four seniors in our adult family home, and our resident staff community has periodically included parents with young children. We have also had significant impact in the lives of children who have participated in our extended family of volunteers.
As we prepare for the next phase of development, we are excited about expanding our intergenerational impact by providing affordable housing for low Socio-Economic Status (SES) families with young children. Consider with us the motivation and rationale for expanding our programming to broaden our intergenerational impact. Intergenerational communities are an upstream solution which prevents detrimental outcomes and lowers societal costs for both seniors and low SES families with young children.
Impactful Support for Low SES Families with Children
Poverty is a key social determinant of health and low SES families are at higher risk for adverse outcomes over the lifespan including negative effects on socioemotional development, physical and mental health, and educational achievements (Gitterman et al. 2016; Glymour et al., 2014; Marmot & Bell, 2012; Santiago, Wadsworth, & Stump, 2011). By creating affordable housing to serve this population, Hope & A Future will improve the lives of children by promoting stable housing (Anderson, Leventhal, Newman, & Dupéré, 2014, Anderson et al., 2014, Anderson et al., 2014; Kaplan et al., 2017) and building resilience and overall well-being (Zimmerman et al. 2013, and Bethell, Gombojav, Solloway, & Wissow, 2016; Garner, 2013).
Low Socioeconomic Status (SES) families have higher residential mobility rates and moves are often associated with financial difficulties, parental stress, and instability (Anderson et al., 2014). A growing body of research shows that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with poor outcomes (Shanks, & Robinson, 2013). Chetty and Hendren (2015) indicate that when families move out of concentrated poverty and into higher-opportunity neighborhoods, young children gain the most. For children aged 13 or less, each year of childhood spent in a higher-opportunity neighborhood significantly increases lifetime earning potential, the likelihood of attending college, and decreases the chance of becoming a single parent (Chetty & Hendren, 2015).
In addition to affordable housing which can ease financial burdens, social connections and mentoring offered within intergenerational neighborhoods can help ameliorate stressors and build resilience in low SES families. According to Zimmerman et al. (2013), “resilience occurs when environmental, social, and individual factors interrupt the trajectory from risk to pathology” (p. 215). Children and adolescents of low SES backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to chronic, or toxic stress stemming from adversities and trauma (Shanks & Robinson, 2013). The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) study by Felliti et al. (1998) concluded that children who experience traumatic or adverse events such as abuse, exposure to violence, living with a family member who has substance use issues or a mental illness are at greater risk for physical and mental health conditions in adulthood. Individuals who had experienced a higher number of ACEs were significantly more likely to suffer from chronic and debilitating diseases, such as depression, alcoholism, ischemic heart disease, cancer, and chronic lung disease (Felitti et al., 1998). (For more information on ACEs, watch Nadine Burke Harris' TED Talk.)
The Philadelphia Urban ACE study built on the foundation established by the original Felliti et al. study and looked at a more racially diverse and urban population. Findings concluded that ACE scores were even higher in this lower SES population. (Institute for Safe Families, 2013). Mounting evidence suggests that childhood adversities in low SES families can also be related to financial insecurity, parental stress, and living in an unsafe or poor neighborhood (Santiago, 2011; Shanks & Robinson, 2013). The effect of ACEs can be magnified by low SES status as these individuals tend to have less access to resources and coping strategies (Kelly-Irving et al., 2013). Since the publication of the original Felliti et al. article in 1998, our understanding of childhood adversity and its link to poor health has grown. Toxic stress results from prolonged activation of the body’s stress-response system and causes negative physiologic changes which may lead to learning deficits, behavioral problems, and poor health outcomes over the lifespan (Garner, 2013).
Intergenerational Community-Part of the Solution
Resilience to stress and adversity is built through strong social supports that promote emotional regulation and model effective social interactions (Bethell, Gombojav, Solloway, & Wissow, 2016; Garner, 2013). Such support can be found within the intergenerational neighborhood, where caring relationships are emphasized. 100% of parents living in an established intergenerational community reported that people in the neighborhood, “…watch out for each other’s children and help one another out” (Earhart et al., 2009, p. 51). Consistent and nurturing relationships can help buffer the effects of stress in children and adolescents and therefore, may improve long-term educational, behavioral, and health outcomes (Garner, 2013; Shanks & Robinson, 2013; Zimmerman et al., 2013). Mentoring from seniors and other adults is one of the key features of intergenerational communities, and has been shown to build resilience as well as promote positive academic and behavioral outcomes (Kaplan et al., 2017; Zimmerman et al, 2013). Khanlou and Wray (2014) posit that programs which enhance resilience should be undertaken in tandem with public health measures addressing the social determinants of health and, “a whole community approach to resilience is suggested as a step toward closing the public health policy gap.” (p. 64).
Children of low SES families often remain in poverty as adults with a high likelihood that their own children will live in poverty as well (Cheng, Johnson, & Goodman, 2016). Raising a family without reliable employment or low wages while worrying about food security, housing, childcare, and transportation are just a few of the many hurdles that parents face. Although higher education is a way out of poverty, parents often lack the resources needed to complete a degree. Parental education is highly predictive of the educational level their children will achieve, reinforcing the importance of continued education (Ratcliffe, 2015).
One of the goals of Hope & A Future’s proposed TIIN is to help low SES families break the cycle of poverty. The two-generation model is an evidence-based strategy which targets helping both children and parents simultaneously (Aspen Institute, 2016; Cheng et al., 2016). The Aspen Institute (2016) describes this strategy as follows:
Two-generation approaches provide opportunities for and meet the needs of children and parents together. They build education, economic assets, social capital, and health and well-being to create a legacy of economic security that passes from one generation to the next. (p. 1).
The intergenerational neighborhood inherently embodies this model with built-in support and social capital for both parents and children. On-site childcare, after-school care, and help with transportation can ensure that parents are able to work and go to school knowing their children are being looked after by trusted neighbors. Children and adolescents have opportunities to benefit from tutoring and mentoring offered by residents and parents can rely on other neighborhood parents as well as seniors for peer support and mentoring. Additionally, the “24/7” aspect of the neighborhood helps to ensure that residents have access to support for unexpected situations that may arise.
The resource-rich intentional intergenerational community, founded on reciprocal social relationships provides unique ways to support low SES families, buffer toxic stress, build resiliency, and improve outcomes. Affordable housing that is stable, safe, and filled with opportunity contributes to economic stability and increases residential permanence. The unique social support available within the intergenerational community lends itself well to the two-generation model of breaking the cycle of poverty.
People need to help as much as they need to be helped. We see the work ahead as a shared task with a shared benefit for young and old together. Thank you for your partnership in helping us build the foundation, and we look forward to your continued partnership as we prepare for the next phase of the Therapeutic Interactive Intergenerational Neighborhood (TIIN).
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Written by members of the Hope & a Future community including residents, volunteers, and staff.