Nonprofits Challenge Age Segregation: Rebuilding Multigenerational Communities


The end of summer signals more than the end of bathing suit and suntan season. For more and more Americans, it signals the return to age-segregated living. College students return to universities, working adults return from summer vacations to environments where they only interact with their peers, and children return to schools where they are separated by grades. Additionally, many senior citizens are living in exclusive gated communities.

Age segregation is becoming more and more of a reality. In one study measuring a six-month period, only a quarter of Americans over the age of 60 reported discussing “important matters” with people younger than 36—and if relatives were excluded, the number dropped to six percent.

A growing number of nonprofits are bucking this trend by building intergenerational communities. These communities focus on the needs and strengths of seniors and young families, encouraging them to depend on each other to succeed.

Several years ago, Whitney Gossett went from being a family of one to being a mother of four. She adopted four siblings in foster care, ensuring they were not separated from one another. Now the children are ages 7 to 13, and they are getting ready to welcome Gossett’s fiancé.

Not surprisingly, families like the Gossetts need a lot of support. The Gossetts found it in the Hope Meadows community. Located in Rantoul, Illinois, about two hours south of Chicago, Hope Meadows consists of roughly 40 rental homes where ten families like the Gossetts live among seniors. The seniors receive a break in their rent for volunteering six hours a week helping their neighbor families, but many do much more.

The founder, Brenda Krause Eheart, a former University of Illinois professor, created the community 21 years ago to support the foster children. The seniors were merely an afterthought. Looking back, she realizes the idea would have “collapsed” without the seniors. She is “convinced that we have to do so much more to utilize the time and talents of older adults to address these social problems.”

This community was the model Sister Claire LeBoeuf used to build New Life Village. Sister Claire understands firsthand the insecurities foster children face. At the age of 13, she faced the sudden death of her mother and subsequently moved in with her godmother. Although Sister Claire was loved and cared for by her godmother, she did not feel like she belonged. This feeling continued until she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross four years later.

That sense of not belonging is the same feeling foster children face, and Sister Claire has dedicated her life to creating permanent homes for them. She created New Life Village for older foster children, who have the least likelihood of being adopted. When families move to New Life, they adopt older foster children. They live among other foster families as well as with seniors serving as extended family.

Although these intergenerational communities were revolutionary two decades ago, today they serve as models for others in Oregon and Massachusetts. A half-dozen more are on the way, including one community modifying the idea to support adults with developmental disabilities and another for veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

In Northwest, Washington, D.C., a nonprofit called Genesis is putting the concept to use to build a community to support young women aging out of the foster care system with young children of their own. Both the twenty-one-year-old moms and the seniors will volunteer a minimum of 100 hours every three months to help each other. For example, the young moms will drive the seniors to doctor’s appointments and the seniors will look after the children while the moms are working or in school. The founder describes the community as offering “meaningful purpose” for the seniors as well as assisting the young families, thereby severing the pipeline of poor children into the foster care system.

Overall, families in these intergenerational communities resemble extended families of our past demonstrating that as much as our world has changed the needs of children and their families are remarkably consistent.

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When A Public School Closes



July 28, 2015; National Public Radio, “nprED”

In large cities across the country, public schools districts are consolidating schools. Sadly, once the schools close, many of the buildings remain vacant, breeding crime and hemorrhaging resources.

Over the last decade, many major cities from Chicago to Tulsa lost large numbers of families with school-aged children. As these families moved to the suburbs, the infrastructure that supported them also emptied, particularly the schools. Many city districts consolidated and closed schools. In the 2010 school year alone, two percent of all public schools in the U.S. were closed. As schools close, one question rarely considered is what happens to the abandoned buildings afterward.

Over the last 43 years, the number of students in the St. Louis, Missouri school districtfell almost 80 percent from 115,543 to 24,000. This drastic drop led to the closing of 43 out of the 111 schools in the city, most in the last ten years. Virginia Savage understands this trend too well. Her area is filled with vacant buildings, including the school she went to as a girl, Marshall Elementary. It was shuttered in 2004. Over a decade later, the building remains abandoned and little is done to protect it from the drug dealers and users who have replaced the students.

Virginia knows that a closed school does not automatically turn into an eyesore. She volunteers in a church that is located in a closed school. The school district sees the potential of these once-stately schools as well. They contracted with architects, real estate developers, and others to explore the opportunities.

Repurposing these abandoned school buildings often has a domino effect on the entire community, according to Jessica Eiland, president of Northside Community Housing, Inc. in St. Louis. The organization creates affordable housing in the city. Its first housing project was the renovation of an old school into twenty affordable apartment units for seniors.

What Virginia’s community is experiencing is going on across the country. In December of 2012, Philadelphia announced what was then the largest single-year closing of public schools in the nation. A total of 37 schools, or fifteen percent, were closed. Chicago followed less than a year later with the decision to close 50 schools.

In 2013, the Pew Trust completed a study documenting the consolidation, abandonment, and repurposing of public schools in twelve cities: In addition to Chicago and Philadelphia, the study comprised Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City (MO), Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Washington (DC). Throughout the twelve districts, 301 former schools remain vacant and 267 were sold, leased, or repurposed. The typical school for sale is located in a residential area and is over 60 years old and larger than 50,000 square feet. Those sold were purchased for a price between $200,000 and $1 million, often well below initial projections. In some cities, public school buildings for sale compete with shuttered parochial schools. Additionally, Pew noted that the sale of an abandoned school does not always lead to reuse.

The study found that more than 40 percent of the buildings sold, leased, or reused went to charter schools, but this option is controversial. One reason is that as charter schools expand into bigger buildings, they often attract additional public school students, leading to further reductions in the population of the public school district. To prevent this, many districts, including St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, limit, refuse, or are legally unable to sell closed school buildings to charter schools. In Chicago, there’s a shift in this trend as buildings remain vacant. In other school districts, like Tulsa, charter schools and other organizations with a mission of teaching and learning are given first priority.

Refraining from selling these buildings to charter schools does not seem to prevent student flight, either. For example, in St. Louis, public charter schools enrolled 42 percent of all public school students in 2014. In 2006, the district listed the Hodgen school building for $1 million. A charter school offered to buy the building, but the district refused. The charter built a brand new school across the street for $7.5 millionand spent an additional $774,279 to demolish Hodgen and use the land for a parking lot and playground.

The longer a building remains vacant, the harder it is to sell and repurpose. Additionally, school districts often choose to close schools because the buildings themselves are in poor condition. Tearing one down could cost a district half a million dollars at least.

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Nonprofits Step into Gap on Curing Childhood Cancer



July 20, 2015; Newsweek

The average age of a child diagnosed with cancer is six. Although those suffering from more common cancers have access to breakthrough medications, those with less common forms have little hope. Nonprofits are working to change this deadly diagnosis.

On Friday, Nonprofit Quarterly examined the high cost of cancer drugs and how these drugs’ high price tags do not always correlate to life saving results. Here, we examine the lack of medications available for many childhood cancers.

In the United States, more children die from cancer than any other disease. Each year, one in 285 children are diagnosed with the disease and an estimated 2,000 will eventually die from it. Worldwide, more than 175,000 children are diagnosed, or one every three minutes. Two-thirds of those treated will suffer long-term effects; by the age of 45, 80 percent suffer severe life-threatening conditions.

Four-year-old Penelope had neuroblastoma, a form of cancer originating in nerve tissue. Suffering since the age of one, she received all of the conventional therapies, including chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and a bone marrow transplant, but the cancer continue to grow unhindered. Her father, John London, refused to give up and turned to the Internet. He learned of a study at the University of Vermont using an anti-parasitic drug. The drug was originally used to treat an unrelated infection, but it also seemed to affect neuroblastoma tumors. After learning of the unexpected occurrence, Dr. Giselle Sholler did a specific study and found the drug reduced tumor size in cell lines and mouse models by up to 75 percent.

Mr. London wanted the drug for Penelope, but it was not approved in the U.S. for this use. Although Bayer, the manufacturer, did not have any immediately available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had stockpiled the drug for possible outbreaks of Chagas disease, a potentially deadly infection occurring mostly in Latin America but increasingly seen in parts of the U.S. After two months of calling Bayer, the CDC, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—which possesses the power to grant compassionate-use approval—Penelope received it. Six weeks later, she was active again.

According to the American Cancer Society, less than one percent of all cancers affect children. But, more children die from childhood cancer than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital abnormalities, and diabetes combined. And since 1975, the overall number of cancer patients is increasing. While children suffering from more familiar types of cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, have access to new treatments that have made significant improvements, those like Penelope who suffer from less common cancers have few new options. Part of the reason is the cost pharmaceutical companies incur to develop new drugs: around $1.4 billion. In addition, childhood cancer receives less than four percent of the entire National Cancer Institute’s research budget. This translates to $185.1 million, or forty to fifty therapeutic trials across the country. What’s more, the amount the Institute spends has been decreasing over the last four years.

Because of the lack of interest from Big Pharma and the paltry amounts of government funding, nonprofits have stepped in to fill the gap. Mr. London and another father, Scott Kennedy, whose son, Hazen, also died of neuroblastoma, began Solving Kids Cancer. The organization continues to be led by parents whose children suffered from cancer. Its mission is to “proactively drive the creation of innovative treatments to help kids that are sick right now. By using small, nimble trials, [they] discover new treatment options at revolutionary rates.” Currently, the organization is sponsoring twenty-six trials and raised $650,000 at their 2015 spring event.

St. Baldrick’s Foundation is another nonprofit leading the search for a cure. Started in 1999, the organization raises most of their critical funds by shaving volunteers’ heads for charity. Between 2005 and 2012, the organization raised one hundred million dollars in additional childhood cancer research.

Since less than five percent of children survive relapsed neuroblastoma, developing new drugs and therapies is crucial. Clearly, there is much work to be done for the Penelopes and Hazens of the world.

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