New daycare’s core curriculum is empathy

Ron Porter, 77, walked into the Kindness Creators Intergenerational Daycare, located inside of Oak Park Arms independent and assisted living retirement facility, 408 S. Oak Park Ave. in Oak Park, bearing gifts — two jumbo packs of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups he’d bought during a trip to Walgreens on Oct. 2.

“It’s my 4-year-old granddaughter’s birthday, so I felt obliged to get treats for the kids,” said Porter, whose grandkids live in Lockport — about a 40-minute drive from his Oak Park Arms residence. “I love children.”

The new daycare, which the Oak Park Board of Trustees approved to operate inside of Oak Park Arms last November, opened on Aug. 29. Porter, an Oak Park Arms resident who volunteers at the daycare, said he rarely gets to see his five grandchildren, but the fidgety preschoolers allow him to feel something of his granddaughter’s vibrancy despite her absence.

Jaime Moran — a co-owner who also serves as co-director and co-head teacher along with her business partner, Pamela Lawrence — said the idea to start a daycare inside of a retirement community was inspired by her relationship with her grandfather.

“I grew up with my grandpa, who had Alzheimer’s disease and I can remember when I was young, he always remembered me,” Moran said. “He never remembered the adults in the family and even up to the day he passed away, he knew who I was.”

If her grandfather was the motivation, Moran said, a documentary she saw about an intergenerational daycare in Seattle provided the spark.

“I was like, ‘Oh God, this is it, this is what I’m supposed to do,” Moran recalled. “We should have this. At the same time, Pam’s mom happened to be in a retirement community and she observed how the seniors would respond when she brought her daughters there. A mutual friend of ours happened to know [Moses Williams, Jr. — the executive director of Oak Park Arms] — and a dream came to live in about a year-and-a-half.”

Moran said that the two-room space where the daycare operates was formerly a crafts room, a weaving room and an office.

“We had to blow out the cement walls, gut the space and add ADA bathrooms for the children,” she said, adding that there’s also kitchen space.

“Bringing the two generations together will be a very unique and special experience,” Williams said in a statement last month. “We are excited to welcome Kindness Creators into our building and our active community.”

Moran said that the daycare is a preschool program that so far enrolls 16 students, with between six and 10 senior residents of Oak Park Arms volunteering. On the day Wednesday Journal visited, Lawrence was putting some of the kids down for a nap.

“This benefits the residents, because a lot of retirement communities don’t have a lot of visitors or family that’s close by,” Moran said. “We make it a point to walk the kids down the halls and brighten the day for everybody. We make sure we smile and say, ‘Good morning.’ They’re always offering high fives and handshakes and hugs. Our goal is to make the residents comfortable and to improve their quality of life.”

“Usually they take walks in the morning, so I come like in the afternoon,” said volunteer Nancy Thornton, 65. “The kids are fun and they behave themselves which is nice.”

Anne Gressle, 73 and an Arms resident, taught preschool for more than 40 years. On Oct. 2, she was assisting two children with an art project.

“I’ve been here for about two months now and the daycare opened the week after I moved in,” Gressle said. “It’s kind of a coincidence. I didn’t think I’d ever come back to it after I retired, but I came here, anyway, and it seemed like it was just time to be back with the kids. The timing was perfect.”

Porter said that he gets motivation to visit the daycare while listening to old Patsy Cline CDs.

“There’s a song she sings, ‘If I Could See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child),'” he said. “It says, ‘What a wonderful world this would be.’ That is a beautiful song and it’s so meaningful. I listen to it every night.”

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