What’s 90 years between friends? It makes little difference at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care. A 2-year-old gladly climbs into a grandmotherly lap to hear a story. And wheelchairs routinely break for toddlers walking duckling-like to their classroom. At St. Ann Center, it’s all about people—of all ages and abilities—caring for one another.
In 1999, the doors opened to St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care—the first facility in Milwaukee and among the first in the nation to offer both childcare and adult day care in one home-like setting. Its mission: to provide community-based educational and health services to children, frail elders and adults with disabilities, along with vital support for their caregivers.
Rooted in the Franciscan tradition of caring for society’s most vulnerable, St. Ann Center offers various services that are available to clients and the general public. They range from outpatient rehabilitation to an aquatics program with a wheelchair-accessible pool, and from art and music therapy to overnight respite, where people in need of constant care can spend one to 21 days while their caregivers get a needed break.
“You take care of the basics, and people live healthier as they age,” says St. Ann Center founder Sr. Edna Lonergan, adding it’s a simple solution to premature institutionalization. An adult day care cost analysis shows in 18 months, St. Ann Center saved the state more than $4 million in reimbursements when compared to nursing homes and $856,000 when compared to in-home care.
The success of St. Ann Center’s first facility—the Stein Campus in Bay View—motivated Sr. Edna to build another—the Bucyrus Campus—in the 53205/53206 ZIP code, an underserved neighborhood with high unemployment and limited services.
The Bucyrus Campus, opened in 2015, has revitalized its north side neighborhood, creating more than 100 family-supporting jobs. To address community health disparities, the campus opened a full-service, public Medical Clinic—a member of the Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. The campus also opened a one-of-a-kind dental clinic that exclusively treats children and adults from throughout Wisconsin with severe disabilities—a population that previously found it nearly impossible to find dental care.
Dedicated to helping the north side’s economic development, St. Ann Center launched a program of semi-annual Business Incubators, connecting aspiring neighborhood entrepreneurs with mentors and investors. Currently, St. Ann Center is partnering with BizStarts in offering a training program aimed at helping low-income entrepreneurs succeed.
The ongoing pandemic has shaken the foundation on which the intergenerational model was built. Due to the vulnerability of frail elders and people with disabilities to COVID-19, the center’s adults and children now need to be physically separated. But that obstacle has only served to make St. Ann Center staff more creative. The children and adults are able to work on art projects together—drawing on opposite sides of a huge Plexiglas wall. They make valentines for one another, and like so many of us, make connections via Zoom story time.
St. Ann Center is in the process of building an Intergenerational Play Garden on the Bucyrus Campus grounds, set for completion in spring. Located outside, it will allow children and adults to interact at a safe distance in the open air. In addition, several raised bed gardens will be planted on the Bucyrus Campus grounds—giving children and adults a chance to plant, tend and harvest produce that will be served in their lunches.
Come summer, the Indaba Band Shell, located on the Bucyrus Campus grounds, will launch a free, 13-week summer concert series, Indaba Nights. Every Wednesday evening, June through August, area musicians, poets, dancers, actors, comedians and more will take to the band shell stage to share family-friendly entertainment.
A 2018 Harris Poll shows only a quarter of Americans are aware of places that care for children and older adults together. However, a strong majority agree older adults and children have talents that can address each other’s needs and create a sense of purpose for all generations.
“I’d love to see a place like St. Ann Center in every community,” Sr. Edna says. “It’s a place where children grow up and adults grow older in the best way possible—together.”
St. Ann Center is now enrolling for both adult day services and childcare. To learn more, call the Stein Campus, 2801 E. Morgan Ave., at 414-977-5000 or the Bucyrus Campus, 2450 W. North Ave., at 414-210-2450.