Best Practices

In Burlington, Youngest and Oldest Residents Share Multi-Generational Center

April 17, 2000

A former brownfield site in the heart of one of Burlington's lower income areas has provided a home for a combined childcare and senior center that is demonstrating how much a community can benefit when some of its youngest and oldest residents are brought together.

The McClure Multi-Generational Center, in operation now for a full year, is the product of an innovative community project which included the redevelopment and clean-up of a brownfield site, the investment of federal community and economic development funds, a community effort to raise $1.2 million in private contributions to complete the project, and the relocation of the Burlington Children's Space and the Champlain Senior Center under the same new roof - a relocation which enabled both groups to expand and improve their services to the community and to realize operating efficiencies and long term cost savings.

Children's Space is an accredited, nonprofit childcare center that provides day, evening, weekend and second-shift day care and pre-school services for the children, newborn to age 12, of nearly 200 of the community's families, many with low incomes, many with no homes. The Senior Center, an activity-based program for citizens 60 years of age and older, is providing companionship, recreation, education, health and other services and is serving 10,000 meals each year to more than 600 of the community's senior members.

Every day in the McClure Center, the children and the seniors come together for literacy programs such as "Book Buddies" (in which seniors read to toddlers and pre-schoolers), for special meals, and whenever they feel like visiting.

In 1998, when the Burlington City Council voted unanimously to support the Center's development, Mayor Peter Clavelle said the community had been given an opportunity "to embrace and realize an exciting vision." Today, a full year into Center operation, the executive directors of the two service organizations say it is accomplishing everything they had hoped for - and more. "We wanted a natural way for people to interact," says Children's Space director Angela Irvine, "but we wanted them to be able to separate, too." The Senior Center's director, Syndi Zook, says the children have been comfortable going into the Senior Center, "and their families have really taken to the elders."

In addition to the separate space provided for the childcare services, the senior services, and the joint multi-generational activities, the Center provides space for community use, including two conference rooms, a computer library and a large multipurpose space which has been booked since opening day for meetings, training sessions, community development activities and playgroups. Among the users of the space are neighborhood family-based childcare providers which are in the network of providers maintained by the Center and with which the Center shares resources, materials and professional development opportunities.

The Center grew out of needs independently expressed by Burlington Children's Space and the Champlain Senior Center - both long-established community organizations - to relocate to more adequate facilities. Agreeing to the City's suggestion to work together, they were soon joined in their quest by the nonprofit Burlington Community Land Trust which offered them a blighted lot located in the City's Old North End. This launched the three groups into an exhaustive three-year planning activity; numerous retreats and meetings during this period brought their staffs closer together and culminated in a building design and a vision for fundraising which officials say made the job of raising $1.2 million from 250 local contributors a relatively easy one. It was also a relatively quick one: the contributions from the private sector were obtained in less than eight months.

The capital budget for construction of the new Center totaled $2.36 million; in addition to the $1.2 million community contribution, the budget included $350,000 in tax-exempt 501(c)(3) bond proceeds, $350,000 from the sale of the old Senior Center, $75,000 from Burlington's Community Development Block Grant, and $110,000 from the Burlington Community Land Trust. Included in the Land Trust's contribution were funds from Burlington's Enterprise Community. Early in the process, financial support for the Center also was provided by the Marianne G. Faulkner Trust, the John LeClair Foundation, the Agnes M. Lindsay Trust, and the Vermont Community Foundation.

Mayor Clavelle and McClure Center officials feel strongly that the new facility has had a dramatic impact on the quality of life of the children and the senior citizens served and on the many staff members, volunteers and parents who are regularly in the Center. They believe:

  • inter-generational contact greatly reduces the age-segregated isolation so often present in a community;
  • young children need positive relationships with adults in addition to their parents to develop strong foundations for learning and success;
  • senior citizens need opportunities and experiences that support healthy aging and extend independent living;
  • senior citizens are healthier when they are active and interact with a variety of other people; and
  • if quality care and services are available outside the home to both their younger children and their older parents, community members are better able to work or to participate in other endeavors that support the self-sufficiency of the family.
Children's Space director Irvine says the impact and the value of the multi-generational approach was captured in something a parent said to her following the opening of the Center. "It used to take me 10 minutes to pick up my daughter every day," the parent told Irvine. "Now it takes half an hour - because she has to go say goodbye to all her friends at the Senior Center, too."

"It's not enough to say the Center has been a 'win-win' project for the City," says Mayor Clavelle. "When you consider what it's doing for the kids, the senior citizens and the neighborhood, it's a 'win-win-win' and a model we hope other cities will want to consider."

Additional information on the McClure Multi-Generational Center is available from Angela Irvine at (802) 658-1500, extension 13.

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