Hope Meadows

Of the roughly 40 houses currently rented in Hope Meadows in Rantou IL – 10 are occupied by families who’ve adopted children from foster care. The rest are occupied by older adults who volunteer to help them.

I stumbled upon mention of this reading something else. It was just a little “also” paragraph at the end but I was intrigued and had to go looking into it.

On a quiet street in Rantoul sits a small neighborhood of 15 nondescript duplex houses, part of a larger subdivision built decades ago to house the families of pilots and workers at the now-closed Chanute Air Force Base. Although it’s impossible to tell just by looking, something remarkable is happening here: adopted kids from troubled backgrounds are finding acceptance and support in the arms of neighbors old enough to be their grandparents. That’s by design at Hope Meadows, a community bringing together several generations of people from all walks of life for one purpose: building a safe and stable environment for adopted children.

Started in 1994 by Brenda Eheart, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hope Meadows is a neighborhood of adopted children, their families and senior citizen volunteers, all working together to form a community of support and interdependence. What was started as a permanent destination for adopted children has also become a place where adoptive parents find support as they deal with often troubled kids, and where seniors can find continued purpose as they age. Hope is the first iteration of a social services model known as ICI – intergenerational community as intervention – and it is on the verge of spreading nationwide.

Families seeking to adopt move to Hope Meadows and are paired with children in need of a permanent home. Each family lives for free in one of the 15 six-bedroom homes converted from pairs of duplex apartments, and one parent is employed by Hope Meadows as a “family manager,” earning a stipend and health insurance coverage for the family. Meanwhile, senior residents at Hope volunteer for six hours each week and receive reduced rent on an apartment in the neighborhood. There is on-site counseling available for adopted children, and the whole neighborhood regularly participates in group activities that build intergenerational relationships. The secret of the program’s success is that the relationships are allowed to form naturally, which helps provide meaningful interaction and a sort of informal therapy for all involved.

The children adopted at Hope often come from situations of sexual abuse, neglect or overwhelmed parents, Calhoun says, and they often have issues with trust and abandonment. At Hope, those children find a permanent place to unpack their bags, literally and figuratively. With the seniors and staff involved, the families have constant support. The seniors have raised their own kids and can give hindsight about what might work in whatever situation. The support makes a lot of difference in the closeness at Hope Meadows because everyone is looking at what’s good for the children.

Hope used to accept foster kids but now the program focuses solely on adoption. Hope Meadows found that the bonds that were broken when those foster children eventually left were too hard on everyone involved. It was like they were losing not only the attachment to the foster parents, but an attachment to the entire community. Childhood is all about forming attachments. That’s how we evolve, and if that’s disrupted when you’re young, it makes it harder to do it again and again. It’s harder to trust and believe that this is really going to be your new family, your new home.

The community’s senior volunteers benefit from the program as well, and not just in the form of reduced rent. Seniors at Hope generally feel a sense of continued purpose because of the impact they can have on young lives, and the relationships they build provide meaningful interaction. As seniors grow older, they can rely on community members to look after them. Seniors are an integral part of Hope’s success because they provide wisdom and support for other community members.

The program is intergenerational, interracial, inter-whatever. Many of the adopted children are African-American and most other residents are white. Everybody gets to know everybody else as an individual, and when you know someone as an individual, it’s harder to put them into a category. This is it’s intentional.  The majority of children in foster care are African American.

The Executive Director at Hope Meadows is Elaine Gehrmann. She is a former Unitarian minister and public defense attorney. Gehrmann says she wanted to be a part of Hope because it “deals with the whole person and their whole situation. Being a lawyer, clearly I helped some people, but I could only help them with their legal problems,” Gehrmann says. “A legal problem may be the least of your problems, and may be a manifestation of a larger problem. This place provides a lot of the things that communities used to provide that they don’t anymore.”

This blog was excerpted from a longer article. You can read the complete Illinois Times story here – This Is The Village It Takes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.