In 1993, when The Early Learning Center at FIELDHOME opened its doors, there was more to the program than quality child care. The Administration wanted to create a community within the FIELDHOME campus — a unique place where both young and old can enjoy and benefit from each other and a place that felt more like a neighborhood than a “facility.”
The Early Learning Center, which cares for 30 children from 6 weeks to five years old, has accomplished this and so much more. The children’s program is woven into the weekly activity calendars of both the Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living/Memory Support programs, offering a comprehensive intergenerational experience for all. Some of the many intergenerational programs include story time, weekly themed activities, visiting, crafts, sing-alongs, holiday parties and special events.
Over the last few years, the Learning Center Director and campus Recreational Therapists at FIELDHOME have become members of the Intergenerational Network, and have received special education and training to further enhance the program.
Carol Milillo, Director of The Early Learning Center at FIELDHOME praises the intergenerational program for its virtually limitless benefits to both the children and the adult population. “Children learn so much from the experience. For example, they acquire a greater understanding of people with varying abilities, and expand their ability to have compassion and patience. As a result, many children form special bonds with their new ‘grandfriends’ and greatly look forward to spending time with them.”
Diana Penna, Administrator for The Seabury at FIELDHOME, adds, “The children from the Early Learning Center bring new life and recollection of past experiences during each visit. The residents and children always bring smiles to each other’s faces—even just a wave can brighten a day.”
Intergenerational programming at FIELDHOME also extends beyond the on-campus child care program to include students and youth organizations from the community as well. A regular program includes high school students from Lakeland High School’s Special Education Class. Students from the class have been doing a well-received weekly program with long-term residents which runs in the winter and summer months. “The residents who participate in this program greatly enjoy the student’s visits and it has been a wonderfully rewarding program for everyone,” states Richard Scheibe, Director of Recreation for FIELDHOME.
In the spring, students from the Walter Panas High School Community Service Club have been holding a unique “Senior Prom” for all of the patients and residents of FIELDHOME. The students plan, run and participate in the entire event including selecting the theme; designing the photo backdrop and decorating; arranging for the distribution of boutonnieres and corsages; helping residents with their hair and nails; and finally, joining the residents for the big event.
Other programs involve local scouting and community service groups as well as other children who visit throughout the year. “The combination of the involvement of students and children from the community along with the daily interaction with our Early Learning Center children provides a true intergenerational community on our campus,” says Richard Scheibe.