USD Childcare Center benefits the young and the young at heart

USD Childcare Center benefits the young and the young at heart Sioux Valley Vermillion Care Center resident Merle Christenson points out a child's drawing hanging on the center's dining room wall.

"My grandbaby drew that," she said.

Her "grandbaby" is Madison Hood, a curly-haired preschooler from The University of South Dakota's Vucurevich Children's Center, who visits Christenson once a week. Although the two aren't officially related, they've developed a special bond through an intergenerational program started this fall.

Every Thursday afternoon for an hour, Madison and 13 other 4-year-olds from the Vucurevich Children's Center take a field trip to the Care Center. Many residents don't have their grandchildren or great-grandchildren living nearby so the program allows them to interact with young children on a regular basis.

Merle Eintracht, director of the Vucurevich Children's Center, knows the importance of interaction between the generations.

"Putting young children and older adults together is an idea as old as families," said

Eintracht. "Our hope is that through this program, we in our own small way will help build a society of children who value all generations.

"Research has proven that there are many advantages in teaming young children with older adults and that it serves the well being of both age groups," she said. "Exploring common ground, while celebrating the richness of both generations, creates social harmony and improves the quality of life for all."

Kathy Vankley, activity director at the Sioux Valley Vermillion Care Center, is excited about the intergenerational program.

"It is a win-win situation that the residents can't get enough of," she said. "It helps to decrease the feeling of isolation they can feel when entering an institution. Merle (Christenson) jumped right out of bed this morning and asked what time the children were coming."

One of Vankley's goals is to involve the community and university in more programs with the care center. USD students are currently involved in an adoptive grandparent program with the residents and she hopes to begin other collaborative efforts.

The children's excitement over the intergenerational program is obvious as they run into the activity room with smiles on their faces and start giving hugs.

"It is a great experience for the children to be exposed to the older generation," said Joey Younie, assistant activity director at Sioux Valley Vermillion Care Center. "The kids lose their fear of elderly people and the nursing home environment. The first time the children came in they huddled by the door. Now they run in the door to greet the residents."

"This nursing home is so 'homey' that the kids really enjoy it here," said Mitch Hess, another assistant activity director. "It is great to see two generations interacting. Residents start asking at the beginning of the week when the kids are coming. And it gives the children a change of scenery to visit here. Four-year-olds are a great age � they are so open."

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