Michelle Jirik, Director of Childcare
TowerLight Childcare, St. Louis Park MN
Riley Crossing, Chanhassen MN
Kids and Elders: Intergenerational Assisted Living and Memory Care
Michelle Jirik worked in childcare for 20 years but always felt there was something more for kids. And she was right. Nine years ago when she saw that Ebenezer’s Intergenerational program was setting up the new Towerlight campus, the lightbulb came on.
Towerlight was the second Ebenezer campus to incorporate “Intergen” programming. Michelle contributed to its development there and at Riley Crossing in Chaska years later. She still is Director of both. Now there is a fourth program in Minneapolis at Pillars of Prospect Park.
While Michelle clearly has helped drive the development of this programming she is too excited, even after nine years, to say much about herself. This is due to always celebrating the obvious benefits for the participants and their families. That is what Michelle is all about!
Memory Care Elders and Kids
While there are benefits of mixing kids and “Grands” as they call them, it is in memory care that the biggest magic happens. In a word, Purpose. Elders are captivated by the little ones, and the sense of purpose that springs up fundamentally changes the culture. The Grands instinctively want to teach and support the kids. And the kids naturally, and refreshingly, see Grands as people rather than their dementia.
Together they naturally support each other in their yet-to-be developed, and their gradually declining, abilities. The kids have their developing language skills and the Grands have their fine motor challenges. Best of all, it all happens without any judgement.
Consequently, bonds develop and they regularly look forward to seeing one another. This in turn spills over to each group’s families who see all the love and want to spread it.
Assisted Living Digs Kids Too
The more independent seniors like to get in on the kid-fun by getting involved too. They help the kids take care of their fish tank for instance. One woman always dresses up in seasonal costumes all year long to entertain the kids. Another gentleman always liked reading pre-K stories to the kids. He also rocked babies every Wednesday. As his dementia progressed he repeated the stories and lost track of many things but always remembered reading story time is something he looked forward to and continued to ask about every week.
Other programming includes weekly visits from MacPhail Center for Music, High Touch Science, apple orchard visits, and the weekly Summer Water Day. Physical activities get more participation in memory care with the “Intergen” element as well, such as Yoga and chair volleyball.
Intergenerational Participants Develop Roots
Compassion – One little guy bemoaned one day that “Miss Sarah had to have a time out today, just like I do at home”.
Friendship – Michelle explained that they get parents of new Kindergarteners regularly reporting this time of year that their boy or girl came home upset that their Grands don’t get to come to school with them!
The operational practicalities take a good amount of grant funding to provide such robust programming. But after years of work the childcare operation maintains a two year waiting list. And Intergen is partially credited with the higher than average occupancy that TowerLight maintains on an ongoing basis.
Michelle summed her feelings about it all by saying “I have been blessed to be a part of developing all these programs”.
“Michelle is a natural leader and trail blazer in the Intergen community. She is regularly invited to speak and share her knowledge about Intergen programming across the country. Her knowledge and passion for her work shine through every day!”
Betsy LaMarre, LALD, Executive Director, TowerLight Senior Living