"Hope" Grows: an Intergenerational Community, 14 Years On

Caitlin Johnson
October 7, 2008

In 1994, Brenda Krause Eheart and Martha Bauman Power, researchers at the University of Illinois, used a million-dollar grant from the state of Illinois to turn a decommissioned air force base into Hope Meadows, an intergenerational community of supports for children in foster care, their adoptive families and seniors.

Fourteen years after its start, Hope Meadows has a nearly 90-percent adoption rate and the average time to adoption is under two years, compared with close to four in the state system. Kids who stay in the state system are four times more likely to remain there until they "age out" at 18 than their counterparts at Hope Meadows.

Paradoxically, it is Hope Meadows' success and stability that is bringing new challenges. The passing of time has changed the dynamic of the community. Many of the children are now teens. At the same time, many of the seniors are now in their 70s and 80s, and facing the challenges of aging.

"We think of children in foster care and of aging people as 'burdens' to society, but the opposite is true—all the generations begin to take care of each other, from within and not top-down," says Brenda Eheart.

Twelve families, 50 children and teens and 60 seniors, called "grandparents", live on Hope Meadows tree-lined streets. As it always has, the community is adapting to the needs of its residents.

A Changing Context

When Hope Meadows launched in 1994, the Illinois foster care system was in crisis. Nearly 1,000 new children entered foster care each month and many lingered in temporary placements. By 1996, the median time in foster care climbed to 56 months, from 8 months a decade earlier.

Since then, Illinois has made progress in turning its child welfare numbers around. There are now about 16,000 children in the system each year—down from 52,000 children a year in the mid-1990s.

That's good news, but it means that many of those who remain in state custody are older children and teens who are harder to move into families. It also means that more of the children arriving at Hope Meadows from the foster care system are older and/or have barriers to adoption.

"Just like ours, these kids have problems with a 'capital P' and the families may not have the support they need to care for these kids as they become teens," says Eheart. "The beauty of our program is that we know these kids and their history. They have relationships with parents, 'grandparents,' the community and other kids. We're in a much better position to begin to address their issues."

A therapist on staff helps ensure a continuity of intervention. There's also a ratio of more than three seniors for each adoptive family at Hope Meadows. In exchange for reduced rent, the seniors volunteer with the children and families for a set number of hours each week.

"A Lot of People to Know and Learn From"

James "Marty" Calhoun, 18, was 4 years old when he came to Hope Meadows with his adoptive family. As a child, he struggled with anger and he says his relationships with adults at Hope Meadows have helped calm his temper. Now, he tries to be a role model and support for the younger kids at Hope.

"I don't know my real parents or my real grandparents, so living out here has given me a lot of grandparents and new people to know and to learn from. Doing different job activities and working around older adults and having all these people in my life helped me get through," he says.

Anita Hochberger and her husband moved to Hope Meadows in 1996, when his job transferred them to the area. "My husband died two years ago and what I found here is that I had a built-in family, that there's always somebody here who wants to help and is willing to do things for you," she says. "Had I not moved to Hope, I definitely would not have known my neighbors as I do here."

Keeping the seniors connected to the community as they age is a new focus of Eheart's work. She's inspired by the way the children and teens have stepped in to help—checking in on seniors and helping with chores.

"When the children first came, their needs were predominant, now they're giving back a lot to seniors as seniors age, and that's something we want all our kids to do and learn to do," Eheart says.

Hope Meadows gets about 20 percent of its funding from the seniors' rent and the rest from grants, federal funds and a state post-adoption contract. (It has also grown a small endowment.) More on its funding

Replicating a Successful Model

Fourteen years of evaluation—ranging from hard data collection to case studies, child and adult profiles and surveys—have shaped the ten core principles of the Hope Meadows model, which includes evidence-based practice, at least three generations and physical facilities that allow aging-in-community.

"Seniors, parents and kids all need stability and some sort of meaningful relationships. They all need a safe neighborhood and purposeful community engagement," says Brenda Eheart. "The literature is just filled with data about the importance of these for seniors and kids, but it's hardly ever built into program design or evaluation."

That's changing, now that the Hope Meadows model is replicated. In 2006, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation helped establish Generations of Hope organization to administer Hope Meadows and adapt the model to address other social problems, including homelessness and teen parenting.

Currently, 13 sites across the country are using the 10 basic principles of Hope Meadows to create intergenerational communities to support children and families in need. Three sites—two in Medford, Oregon and one outside Dayton, Ohio—are creating communities around the foster care to adoption model.


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I&;d like information, if available, on how to start a community like Hope Meadows.