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Fostering Intergenerational Connections in Affordable Housing Communities

Community Development
Fostering Intergenerational Connections in Affordable Housing Communities

Bringing Together Three Generations, One Neighborhood at a Time

As I stroll through the lush gardens and bustling community center of Bridge Meadows, an affordable housing development in Portland, Oregon, I’m struck by the palpable sense of energy and connection. Children’s laughter mingles with the gentle chatter of older residents, as they tend to the vegetable plots or gather for a shared meal.

It’s a scene that exemplifies the power of intergenerational living – a model that’s gaining traction across the United States as a way to address the unique challenges faced by foster children, their adoptive families, and older adults seeking community and purpose. At Bridge Meadows, these three groups come together under one roof, forging bonds that transcend age and circumstance.

The Inspiring Origins of Intergenerational Housing

The concept of intentionally blending young and old in affordable housing communities was first pioneered by sociologist Brenda Krause Eheart, who envisioned a solution to the struggles faced by foster children and their adoptive parents. In 1996, Eheart opened the doors to Hope Meadows in Rantoul, Illinois – the first community of its kind, designed to provide stable, supportive homes for foster families while also engaging older adult residents as mentors and caregivers.

The success of Hope Meadows inspired the creation of similar intergenerational communities across the country, each with its own unique approach but a shared mission: to leverage the power of multi-generational bonds to uplift vulnerable populations. From Treehouse Foundation in Massachusetts to Genesis in Washington D.C., these pioneering projects have demonstrated the transformative impact of bringing together foster children, their adoptive families, and older adults under one roof.

The Bridge Meadows Model: Fostering Connections, Healing Trauma

At the heart of the Bridge Meadows approach is a deep understanding of the complex needs of foster children and the families who welcome them into their homes. “These children have often experienced unimaginable trauma – abuse, neglect, separation from their siblings,” explains Derenda Schubert, the executive director of Bridge Meadows. “They require not just a roof over their heads, but a true sense of belonging, security, and unconditional love.”

That’s where the intergenerational element comes into play. By co-locating foster families with older adult residents, Bridge Meadows creates a web of support that extends beyond the nuclear family. “Our elders don’t just serve as volunteers or activity leaders,” Schubert says. “They become grandparents, mentors, and confidants to these children, providing the consistent, nurturing relationships that are so crucial to their healing and development.”

Renee Moseley, the associate director of Bridge Meadows, elaborates on this dynamic: “We’ve seen children who were once withdrawn and distrustful slowly blossom, thanks to the one-on-one attention and genuine care they receive from their elder neighbors. It’s not uncommon for a child to form a deep bond with a particular older adult, who then becomes a steadfast advocate and champion in their life.”

Breaking Down Barriers, Building Community

Of course, fostering these intergenerational connections doesn’t happen overnight. As the authors of the SSIR article note, new residents sometimes expect instant closeness and support, only to be met with the reality that relationships take time to develop.

That’s why Bridge Meadows places a strong emphasis on setting clear expectations from the outset and providing ample opportunities for organic interactions. The community’s thoughtful design, with its shared courtyards, community gardens, and common spaces, encourages residents to mingle and get to know one another. And by hosting regular events like weekly community dinners and intergenerational art classes, the staff actively facilitates the formation of those all-important bonds.

“It’s not always easy,” admits Moseley. “We’ve had our fair share of conflicts and misunderstandings, especially when it comes to navigating differences in race, culture, or political beliefs. But we’ve learned that addressing those issues head-on, with empathy and a willingness to listen, is the only way to build true unity.”

The Power of Mutual Support

The results of this intentional community-building are nothing short of remarkable. At Bridge Meadows, 90% of foster children have maintained their new family placements, with the vast majority attending school regularly and reporting increased resilience. Meanwhile, 85% of adoptive parents say that living in the community has helped them effectively parent children who have experienced trauma.

For the older adult residents, the benefits are equally profound. “Many of our elders come to us feeling isolated and lacking a sense of purpose,” shares Schubert. “But through their relationships with the children and their involvement in the community, they rediscover their own vitality and find new meaning in their golden years.” In fact, 80% of Bridge Meadows’ older adults report feeling more connected and purposeful.

The stories of individual residents underscore these statistics. Take the example of Martin, a 70-year-old man who found himself drawn to 7-year-old Luna, a child with neurological challenges stemming from prenatal drug exposure. “This is the closest I’m going to get to being a grandfather,” Martin says with a smile, as he recounts the special bond he’s formed with Luna, helping her with schoolwork and taking her to the park.

Or consider Ellen, a working single mom who adopted two nephews with learning disabilities and behavioral challenges. When the morning routine became overwhelming, she found an unlikely ally in Rosie, a retired Bridge Meadows resident who stepped in to help prepare the boys for school and provide daily care and support. “Rosie’s commitment and connection to my kids has been a game-changer,” Ellen says. “I don’t know how I’d manage without her.”

Scaling the Impact, One Community at a Time

As the need for affordable, supportive housing continues to grow, the Bridge Meadows model offers a compelling solution that extends far beyond just providing a roof over someone’s head. By fostering deep, meaningful connections between generations, these communities have the power to transform lives, strengthen families, and cultivate resilience in the face of adversity.

Of course, establishing an intergenerational affordable housing community is no small feat. It requires a unique blend of real estate expertise, social service programming, and a deep understanding of the complex needs of the populations served. But as the successes of Bridge Meadows and other pioneering projects have shown, the payoff is well worth the effort.

As I prepare to leave the vibrant community of Bridge Meadows, I can’t help but feel inspired by the vision of HACC Housing, the organization behind this remarkable model. By replicating these intentional, intergenerational living environments across the country, they are not only addressing the affordable housing crisis, but also weaving a tapestry of support, connection, and community that can uplift the most vulnerable members of our society.

It’s a bold and ambitious goal, to be sure, but one that I believe is within reach. After all, as the old African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At Bridge Meadows and other like-minded communities, that village is being built, one generation at a time.

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