Tapping the Strength of Intergenerational Living During a Crisis: A Nonprofit Board President’s View
When you chose your home, many factors probably went into your decision. Is the neighborhood safe? Are the schools good? How far will my morning commute be? Is it close to our family and friends? Something that probably didn’t occur to you was who your new neighbors would be. Do you know the people who live within a half-mile from your home? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t know them well, if at all.
The residents at Hope Meadows in Rantoul, IL chose their community before they chose their home. In fact, the residents of this little community do a lot of things differently than most people because their neighborhood was established on a principle called, “intentional neighboring.”
The structure of Hope Meadows has changed over time, but the community continues to be grounded by a foundation of intergenerational living where the strengths of every generation are honored every day.
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of community and neighborhood support. As many communities are struggling on how to care for their most vulnerable populations through this crisis, Hope Meadows stands as a model of how to tap the strengths of intergenerational living during the worst of any crisis.
In the Beginning
The force behind the Hope Meadows community, a 501(c)(3), was a visionary by the name of Brenda Eheart. Eheart founded the nonprofit in 1994 on the site of the former Chanute Air Force Base. The community consists of about 60 homes and 2 intergenerational community centers over 22 acres. The residents of Hope Meadows span at least three generations including seniors, parents, and children.
In the beginning, Hope Meadows was licensed as a foster care agency and they recruited foster and adoptive families to live in the community. The leadership also recruited seniors to live in the community who could support the adoptive families by volunteering and serving as mentors and foster grandparents.
The community has sponsored numerous events for the residents including museum visits, ball games, skating trips, zoo trips, and more. They also host smaller events like poetry readings, computer classes for seniors, cookouts, and ice cream socials. Once a month, they still have a community pot luck supper where the “foster grandmas” present each birthday child with a lovely handmade quilt for their very own.
Foster and adoptive families have served their role in the community by completing 90 adoptions between 1994-2019. Seniors within the community have provided over 200,000 valuable hours of community service during the same period.
The true purpose of intentional neighboring is to provide assistance and share the ups, downs, and uncertainties of life through the bonds of friendship. A core belief of Hope Meadows is that everyone has the capacity to form caring relationships and foster well-being especially in times of change or crisis.
A Time of Transition
Lack of funding from the state forced Hope Meadows to terminate their role as a licensed foster care agency a few years ago, which caused most of the foster/adoptive families to leave the community.
Since then, the community has been undergoing a transition. Many of the seniors are aging and need more attention.
As Board President, I’ve been using my expertise to focus on training the current board in best practices for nonprofit governance. We’ve completed our board self-evaluations and strategic plan. We’ve formed a Safety Committee, a Property Committee, and a Governance Committee, and we’re looking for the right people to form a Programs and Services Committee. Strong leadership at the board level is crucial during times of crisis like we’re currently facing with COVID-19 to ensure that the work of Hope Meadows can continue. Currently, board and committee meetings are being held through teleconferencing. As funds increase, the board plans to invest more in property management software to aid in efficiency while supporting transparency, accountability, and accuracy.
One of our goals is to help meet the community needs of today’s society. We’re currently exploring options for a renewed focus on adoptive families, transitional adults, or step-down from residential programs. The development of a Programs and Services Committee will be central to these initiatives.
Intergenerational Generational Communities’ Response to the Pandemic
For decades, the residents of Hope Meadows relied on a newsletter being delivered to their door to learn about the latest news and events in the community. Illinois residents are currently under a Stay in Place Order until April 30th. For the safety of the residents, the executive director has ceased distribution of the newsletter and redirected residents to an internet page where they can get information on how to keep themselves safe, get help for home repairs, and pay their rent.
For now, the monthly community potluck dinners, birthday celebrations, and weekly coffee meetings have to cease, but the mission and sentiment of Hope Meadows live on. Neighbors at Hope Meadows are doing far more than loaning their neighbor a cup of sugar. They’re responding to the concern over a neighbor’s lack of food by delivering a week’s groceries to their neighbor’s doorsteps.
Hank Gamel, the executive director of Hope Meadows believes that crises like COVID-19 are the very mission that Hope Meadows was established for. In his own words, “With 25 years of experience in neighborhood support, Hope Meadows is likely the best-prepared neighborhood in Rantoul and beyond.” He’s been encouraging the residents to take this rare opportunity to join their neighbors in showing the rest of the world how to do it!
At the heart of this neighborhood is a sense of shared purpose and values. This serves as a foundation for caring relationships among staff, families, children and older adults. While a new model of social service continues to be developed at Hope Meadows, the philosophy of intentional neighboring that built the foundation for the community will continue to guide its future.
About the Author:
Toni Hoy is an adoptive parent and mother of four children. She formerly served on an Illinois state authority for children’s mental health as a gubernatorial appointee and currently serves as President of Hope Meadows. She is the author of “Second Time Foster Child” and is the recipient of a number of awards including the 2016 NAMI National Outstanding Member of the Year, the 2014 Angels in Adoption Congressional Award by the Congressional Coalition Adoption Institute, and the 2012 Parent Advocate Award given by Chicago’s Family Defense Center.