Stories from St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care

St. Ann Center Celebrates at Mortgage-Burning Event

St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care celebrated reaching an important milestone at a special ceremony held Friday, June 22, at the Bucyrus Campus.

After 35 years, the mortgage on the center’s Stein Campus, 2801 E. Morgan Ave., has been paid off, thanks largely to the generosity Of Carl and Karen Kitzinger. Longtime St. Ann Center supporters, they jumpstarted a campaign to retire the mortgage in January by offering to pay half of the amount needed. “Carl and Karen have supported St. Ann Center from the very beginning, allowing our programs to grow,” said Sr. Edna Lonergan, the center’s founder and president.

The Kitzingers were among the first donors to the capital campaign that led to the opening of the Stein Campus in 1999. Later, when Sr. Edna was assessing the feasibility of building a second campus, “Carl and Karen came through the front door with a $2 million check,” she said. “This beautiful place, the Bucyrus Campus, is the gift they have helped give us.”

After a ceremonial “mortgage burning,” Linda, a client at the Bucyrus Campus, shared a poem, reading, “The clients at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care have different abilities that make each one special. They are faced with many challenges daily, yet they still manage to find a way to wake up every morning and come to St. Ann Center and share their lives with one another.” The all-ages audience was entertained with spirit-lifting songs performed by the four-year-olds from the Bumblebee classroom.

The celebration concluded with the dedication of the Bucyrus Campus’ 24th Street entrance as Kitzinger Lane. “Now, as we all come in and out of the campus, ” Sr. Edna said, “we will see this street sign and remember our special friends.”

St. Ann Center’s Model Shared Across Spain

St. Ann Center’s mission is gaining an international audience thanks to Mariano Sanchez, an attendee at the Global Intergenerational Conference we co-hosted with Generations United last summer. Mariano is a tenured professor at the University of Granada, Spain, and collaborates with Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Healthy Aging. This article was shared on Mariano’s website Intergenerational Spaces.

St. Ann Center: An Intergenerational Complex with History and Tradition

St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care is a complex currently composed of two intergenerational centers founded in 1999 and 2015, respectively, that have developed their own educational and assistance model based on the concept of “community,” defined as: ” One that provides a non-institutional lifestyle of service, choice, compassion and dignity to all ages.”

What does this mean? Well, it’s an original combination of spaces and services for people of different generations. Up to 500 people go every day in search of care and opportunities to learn in an environment that makes them feel at home.

A little history

The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi arrived in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) in 1849. In 1983, 134 years later, Sr. Edna Lonergan founded the St. Ann Adult Day Care in one of the rooms of the health center of the order.

The project was developed over the years and progressively adapted the spaces of the convent’s basement until 1999, when the first intergenerational center was inaugurated: St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care-Stein Campus. This new building houses a children’s school, as well as spaces where the mission is to respond to a holistic care program focused on the person (body, mind and spirit).

This first center was growing little by little. For example, the Shepherd House was added, a unit specializing in memory care programs for people affected by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. More recently, in 2015, a new building was dedicated in the northern part of ​​Milwaukee, the Bucyrus Campus, which replicates and improves the original intergenerational center model. The design was done by Zimmerman Architectural Studios.

This project  includes an indoor playground and an intergenerational park where the generations can have fun together.

The keys of the model

At the 2017 Global Intergenerational Conference, of which St. Ann Center was co-organizer with the American association Generations United, we attended a seminar in which they discussed how they have developed their two centers and gave interesting clues about how to replicate and be inspired by their model.

Among the most innovative ideas, we highlight:

  • Design adapting to the culture of the user community.
  • Design, facilitating orientation, movement and comfort for each generation.
  • Design interior spaces for games and fun for people of all ages.
  • Design thinking about the colors, appearance and sensations of a diversity of generations.
  • Design paying close attention to lighting and its role when it comes to facilitating the feeling of home and interaction.
  • Design incorporating appropriate equipment and furniture for each age group.
  • Design exterior spaces that extend the interior home.

The general message that our American colleagues send us is clear: “The intergenerational design that works must be flexible and adaptable to be able to satisfy the changing needs that arise, and it has to serve as an adequate package to cover the services that the community needs. ” No more no less.


Danceworks Keeps Generations in Step

Things were really hopping…and leaping, twirling and spinning…at the Bucyrus Campus when the ladies from Danceworks paid a visit. The local nonprofit is dedicated to enhancing the joy, health and creativity of the community through performances, classes and outreach activities that integrate dance and the other arts.

Artistic Director Dani Kuepper and her team members Kim, Gina, Liz and Crystal turned St. Ann Center’s Intergenerational Park into a stage for graceful, energetic movement. Our childcare kids and adult clients sat mesmerized, watching as the dancers formed ever-changing shapes and patterns with their bodies.  Dani worked with the children to help them identify when the dancers were moving at high, medium and low levels of space. The kids caught on quickly, shouting “high” when the dancers jumped into the air, “medium” when they crouched and “low” when they stretched out flat on the floor.

Next, it was time for the children to try some high, medium and low moves of their own. After they got the hang of it, they teamed up with the dancers to teach the adult clients some movements. Sharing St. Ann Center’s belief in intergenerational benefits, Danceworks created a special community program—Danceworks Generations. This program partners with senior centers, public and private adult day centers and elementary schools within Milwaukee, using creative arts instruction to encourage school-aged children to build relationships with older adults in their communities.

Generations United Releases “All In Together” Report on Shared Sites

St. Ann Center is among the programs featured in “All In Together,” a report issued by Generations United (GU) this week citing the benefits of intergenerational shared sites. A Harris Poll, commissioned as part of the report by The Eisner Foundation and GU, found just 26% of Americans “are aware of places in their community that care for children/youth and older adults together.” However 94% believe older adults have talents they can share to benefit youth, and 89% believe the same about youth meeting the needs of elders.

St. Ann Center was spotlighted for being one of the few nationwide to successfully replicate their programs in multiple locations. Casey Rozanski, St. Ann Center’s vice president of fund development and marketing, shared insights in the report around the center’s commitment to strengthening the communities where we serve by hiring the majority of staff from the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The demand for quality children and youth services compounded with the increasing need for creative older adult programs creates an environment ripe for innovative age-integrated care. For many communities facing limited resources to build and rehabilitate facilities, intergenerational shared sites that serve all ages save dollars while making sense.” – Donna Butts, executive director at Generations United

Some of the many benefits of intergenerational shared sites highlighted in the report include:

For Children:

  • Preschool children involved in intergenerational programs had higher personal/social developmental scores (by 11 months) than preschool children in non-intergenerational programs
  • Children who regularly participate with older adults in shared sites have enhanced perceptions of older adults and people with disabilities
  • Children working with adults with dementia developed empathy, patience and problem-solving skills

For Older Adults:

  • Older adults in intergenerational programs experienced improved health and well-being and become less isolated and feel less lonely
  • Older adults with dementia experienced reduced agitation and increased engagement during interactions with children
  • 97% of adult participants in a shared site indicated they benefited from the intergenerational program and reported feeling happy, interested, loved, younger and needed

Sr. Edna Lonergan Awarded Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Cardinal Stritch

Sr. Edna Lonergan joined the graduates of Cardinal Stritch University’s Class of 2018 at the May 20 commencement where she received an honorary degree. In recognition of her more than 35 years as founder and president of St. Ann Center, Sr. Edna was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Cardinal Stritch, founded in 1937 as St. Clare College, joins St. Ann Center as a corporate ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sr. Edna was a keynote speaker at the undergraduate ceremony, speaking on one of the core Franciscan values—creating a caring community.

Excerpted from Sr. Edna’s commencement speech:

One of the advantages of being president of an intergenerational day care is having the wisdom of several age groups to call on. A few weeks ago, I went to talk with the 4-year-olds in our Bumblebee Classroom and told them that I had the awesome responsibility of speaking before some college graduates. First, I had to explain to them that college is several grades beyond kindergarten. After they wrapped their heads around that, I asked them: “What does it mean to have a caring community?” Little Lucy’s eyes grew wide as she raised her hand and said, “If you’re very kind to one another, Sr. Edna will give you a sticker!”

Well, while I don’t quite have enough stickers to go around, I want you to know how tremendously honored I am to meet you, the Cardinal Stritch University Class of 2018. And I’m excited that the Franciscan value you have been focusing on this year is “creating a caring community.”

I’m sure each one of you could tell me stories of how this core value has come to life for you during your experience at Cardinal Stritch.  I am very fortunate to see many beautiful examples of a caring community around St. Ann Center, too. Recently, I saw an 11-year-old volunteer in our Buddy Program playing dominoes with an older man who has developmental disabilities. I saw the boy a little later and said to him, “I bet you win every game.” The boy answered, “Oh, no. I always let him win.” What a world this would be if everyone acted like that…making sure that those around us have a chance to win at life.

At such a young age, that boy has shown the same deep caring that we see in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. I love the story of the night St. Francis and his fellow friars were sleeping after a long day of fasting. One of the men was so hungry, he called out in the middle of the night “I’m dying of hunger!” Hearing him, Francis jumped up, woke up the other brothers, and told them to set out what food they had so they all could eat together. He was much less concerned about the rules and regulations around fasting than he was about the wellbeing of his brother. He didn’t want him to feel guilty or embarrassed, so he insisted they all join him in a meal. I can only imagine the kind of caring community Francis established.

Today, our own Pope Francis is demonstrating this same compassion. Seeing the large number of people who were homeless around the Vatican, he ordered showers be built for them in the heart of St. Peter’s Square. He also made sure that they received soap and towels, and distributed sleeping bags. He even recruited volunteer barbers to give haircuts. Through those basic acts of kindness, he is creating a caring community in a powerful and empowering way…by respecting human dignity.

I have an older brother with dementia. A wonderful volunteer named Joe often works with him at St. Ann Center, trying to make sure he’s getting exercise. Joe could tell my brother, “Okay, now you have to go for a walk. It’s good for your therapy.” But instead, he tells him, “I have a heart problem, so I need to do more walking. But I don’t like to go by myself. Would you go with me?” In that simple, gracious way, Joe is not only giving my brother dignity, he’s making him feel needed. He’s helping him rediscover a sense of purpose.

There are so many things I admire about your generation. I love your insight, your determination and your compassion. For you, a job is about more than a paycheck — it’s about a purpose. You want to use your talents to make the world a better place.  That is so important! When I look at you…and when I look at the children at St. Ann Center, I have real hope for our future.

A few months ago, the mother of a girl in our childcare program stopped in and told me a story. She and her daughter had stopped for lunch at a local McDonald’s. In a booth across from them there was an elderly couple. The man was shaking severely. Without prompting, the little girl got up, went over to the couple and said hello. She even shook the gentleman’s hand. Before the couple left, the wife pulled the mother aside and told her, “My husband has Parkinson’s disease, and we can rarely go anywhere without people staring. How is it that your daughter, as young as she is, isn’t afraid of him?” The mother explained that her daughter is surrounded by people of all ages every day, including some who look, act or move differently. She considers them all her friends. This little girl spends her day in a caring community. And when she leaves it, she takes that experience with her and creates a caring community wherever she goes.

Like all of you graduates, I have been blessed to have a very caring community in my corner. When I brought the idea of starting an intergenerational center to the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi over 30 years ago, I’m sure they didn’t know what to think. Children and older adults in the same day care…how could that work? Thankfully, the Sisters trusted that I knew what I was doing and they offered me their support, their wisdom and their inspiration. I know they have the same trust in each one of you. They believe that you will take what you have learned at Cardinal Stritch and use it to create amazingly caring communities of your own.

As I said, I asked the children and the adult clients at St. Ann Center to help me with this speech. So I’ll close with just a few words of advice they suggested I pass on to you.

    • Liam, age 9, said: Find a job that YOU want to do…not a job your parents want you to do.
    • Willie Mae, 78, said: Get yourself a real nice suit. It will pay for itself.
    • Collen, age 8, said: If you decide to be an artist, make sure you’re good at it, or you’ll never get into a museum.
    • Barry, 56, said: Go with your passion. Loving what you do will keep you young.
    • Carlton, 9, said: If you go on a trip to Switzerland with your friends, make sure that you have enough money left to pay your rent when you get home.
    • Barbara, 71, said: Never give up…and never stop learning.
    • Dennis, 75, said: Keep your mind and your heart open and travel, if you can. The whole world is your classroom.
    • Mia, 8: After you graduate, if you ever get nervous, remember to take deep breaths.
    • And finally, Josiah, age 7, said: You don’t have to buy a house right away. Ask to stay in your dorm room for another year. Or, you can live with your parents. They won’t mind.

Now I’d like to reiterate what I said in the video—that we are all born with divine love. I invite you to grow in that divine love, which has been nurtured through your family, friends and especially at Cardinal Stritch University. And as you grow in that love, create your own caring communities, helping others to be all that they can be.