There’s something very special that happens when friendships develop between those on opposite ends of life; where one is just learning and the other has much to share. Riley Crossing, an innovative senior living facility, offers a place for children and older folks to gather in a unique friendship.
Opening this fall in Chanhassen, Riley Crossing is the most recent addition to the Ebenezer Management Services group of senior-focused properties. Like many similar residences for seniors, it will have a few different housing solutions for older adults. On-site amenities like a pub room, a theater and a hair salon will be included in the property, which will be surrounded by green space with walking paths that connect to nearby public parks. The element that makes Riley Crossing innovative is—children. Child care for children from 6 weeks old through age 5 will also be part of the Riley Crossing community.
Intergenerational care—young children and older adults spending time together in an environment where both groups can receive the support they need and also benefit each other—seems so logical, that you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often. In the late ‘90s, there were a few combined nursery school/nursing homes, but in the last decade, the idea has really begun to gain traction.
Older adults can struggle with isolation and loneliness. Senior living communities are, in part, an answer to how to deal with that situation. Like other facilities of its type, Riley Crossing will have different tiers of apartments, based on how much care and attention residents need to be safe and secure, and planned activities are a part of the daily schedule. But the addition of the childcare center offers a kind of daily interaction that can make the community feel, well, more like a true community and less like one that is singular in focus.
Ebenezer has experience with intergenerational care going back almost a decade. Ebenezer sales and marketing consultant Rachelle Lavalier says the company hopes to open similar communities throughout Minnesota. Lavalier says that some of the benefits they’ve seen over the years were unexpected. “For the children, it really lays a foundation for celebrating diversity,” she says. “When children understand differences, they grow up into better people.”
Director of child care Michelle Jirik agrees. “We thought it was going to be a big benefit for the seniors,” she says. “We’ve been surprised what a big benefit it has been for the children.” Jirik has worked in early childhood development for 25 years, the last four and half years have been in intergenerational care.
“Every year since I started at Tower Light [an Ebenezer intergenerational care community in St. Louis Park], I’ve had at least one parent call me when their child moved on to kindergarten to say that, when the child started school, they wanted to know where their grandfriends were,” Jirik says. “They don’t understand how they can do art projects [for example] without a grandfriend.”
Of course, spending time with the children is a big benefit to the grandfriends, too. Jirik says that there was a resident with Alzheimer's disease who read to the children at 3:30 p.m. every Wednesday. Toward the end of his life, when the disease had progressed, he still remembered that he had somewhere to be at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. “He didn’t always remember where he was supposed to go until his caregiver walked him to the hallway leading to the child care center … and toward the end, he just told the children the same story every week … but he remembered that the kids needed him.”