It’s no secret that positive, older role models are good for the development of children. Or that the mental and physical wellness of seniors is improved when they are part of positive social interactions on a regular basis — with people not only of similar age but with people and children of different generations.
Nearly two years after the Perry Lutheran Homes dared to challenge the notion and common practice that only elders belong inside senior care communities, its inter-generational program Acorns and Oaks is flourishing.
When the average age of those at Perry Lutheran Homes Willis campus is calculated, one arrives at the surprising number of 58. That’s not a miscalculation, but the number does include nearly 30 children who receive care at Acorns and Oaks Christian daycare, located in the lower level of the building.
“It has been amazing to see the impact of these children on all of our residents; especially our memory care residents,” said Deb Koelln, director of nursing for the Perry Lutheran Homes. “There may be times where a resident isn’t engaging with staff or other residents as much as they used to. Or they may be feeling down that day. But once they see a small child or get to hold a baby, everything changes. They light up, they engage and through that simple and magical interaction, the course of their whole day has changed.”
The inter-generational program at the Perry Lutheran Homes is much more than having kids on-site and in the building. It is ingrained into the daily fabric of life both for these elders and these children. Each morning starts out with the children and elders gathering for the Pledge of Allegiance and perhaps some chair exercises to get everyone moving for the day.
An elder then may choose to go down and volunteer in the daycare to read to a child, to paint or play. Later in the morning, the children and elders gather for a planned activity. The afternoon is filled with time for spontaneous connections and one-on-one engagement, whether in small groups or outside.
Should a resident open their window on a nice day, the sounds of children laughing and playing fill the air. On Sundays you will find some Acorns and Oaks children joining the residents in worship.
When the Perry Lutheran Homes resident Carol Mowrer was asked about her time spent with the children, she said, “I think it makes me feel a little younger.” After that, a sweet laugh followed.
Other residents, including Dorothy Rothfus, express how nice it is to get to spend time with and teach those of a much younger generation and how it helps fill their days with meaning and purpose.
Not only does the inter-generational program benefit the elder residents living at the Perry Lutheran Homes, the program also benefits the children of Acorns and Oaks. The children get to hear stories and life lessons from the elders and better understand the normal aging process. They learn about and readily accept people of different ages and abilities as seeing people using canes, walkers and wheelchairs becomes normal to the point where it’s not even noticed. They also gain an immediate extended family of grandpas and grandmas to love them and serve as positive adult role models.
“The kids at Acorns & Oaks Christian daycare are so blessed to be a part of the everyday life of the Perry Lutheran Homes residents,” said Tammy Kratz, daycare director for Acorns and Oaks. “Many of the kids do not have grandparents that live nearby, so having the opportunity to have a whole building full of grandmas and grandpas to love and learn from is amazing.”
Since opening in early July 2017, Acorns and Oaks Christian daycare has served 36 families and 41 children in the community with the support of Christ Lutheran Church in Bouton. Although the daycare is located inside of the Perry Lutheran Homes and is used by staff, it serves as a unique inter-generational Christian daycare option for children 6 weeks through 5 years for all families in the community.
Bethany Wicks, mother of 3-year-old Zeke, shared a story of significance to her.
“My sons and I went to visit their Great Grandma at the Bartels Home in Waverly, Iowa,” Bethany said. “When our visit came to an end, I prompted them to say goodbye. Without hesitation, Zeke gave Great Grandma a hug and kiss then proceeded beyond the room divider and gave her roommate a hug and kiss too! I witnessed the joy flood into her roommate’s eyes as she received affection from a little one. That moment affirmed the inter-generational aspect at Acorns and Oaks has been impactful for Zeke.”
Zeke and his family have also “adopted” a Perry Lutheran Homes resident who doesn’t receive regular visits from family of his own.
The Perry Lutheran Homes is one of the very few elder care communities in Iowa, if not the nation, to integrate an onsite daycare into everyday living. In fact, the name Acorns and Oaks reflects the very essence of inter-generational. The little acorns and the wise oaks co-exist harmoniously, one supporting the other in a Christian Caring Community.
“I like to visit the grandmas and grandpas (upstairs) because we get to do art and different things with them, and that is what fun is all about,” exclaims 5-year-old Grace Lawson of Acorns and Oaks daycare.
When asked what she liked most about daycare, Letecia Trinidad-Garcia, 5, said, ”I like to visit Grandpa Mick because he is so nice and fun.”
To apply for childcare, schedule a tour, or inquire about open teaching positions at Acorns & Oaks, contact Tammy Kratz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-642-0064. To learn more about Perry Lutheran Homes, visit our website.
Perry Lutheran Homes is your locally owned and managed Christian Caring Community, serving Perry and surrounding communities for more than 60 years. Perry Lutheran Homes offers innovative, inter-generational Christ-centered care at two campuses in Perry — the Willis Campus and Spring Valley Retirement Campus. Services include independent and assisted living, three levels of progressive memory care, in-home care, respite care, skilled care, rehabilitative therapy, intermediate and long-term care and end-of-life care.
Mollie A. Clark is the director of marketing at the Perry Lutheran Homes.