On the 18th and 19th of April, I visited the two sites of St Ann Centre for Intergenerational Care in Milwaukee. These unique day centres – where adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds get to interact thanks to a vibrant programme of creative activities – were unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The first centre I visited, the Stein Campus, was founded in the 1990s. With a decoration inspired by the many travels of St Ann’s founder, Sister Edna, the place felt like an inviting and exotic oasis in the middle of the city. The second centre, the Bucyrus campus, is much more recent and was built in 2015 in response to the needs and demands of the community living in the near north side of Milwaukee, one of the most underserved neighbourhoods in the city. Considering the opinions of neighbourhood groups and residents, the first floor reflects a stunning African themed decoration, while the second-floor respite unit takes decorating elements from the southern U.S., where many African-Americans have family ties.
When I first entered both centres, I was struck by the friendly and welcoming feel of the places. Older adults and high school teenagers were enjoying a painting workshop together, while babies were being taken for a walk around the building, waving their tiny hands and smiling at people they encountered. There were people of all ages, with various physical and mental disabilities, including many people living with dementia. Although the centre had separate rooms with activities adapted to the multiple abilities of participants, it also offered regular communal activities and field trips, as well as performances and community events where everyone could interact with each other.
The big task of coordinating the two centres programme of activities had been given to the fantastic Shanness, the VP of Activities and Intergenerational Development. Shanness seemed to know every person at the centre, playfully interacting with all the clients like long-time friends. Her job involved managing the team of Activities Coordinators in all the different departments of the centre and ensuring that all the activities respect the needs and tastes of the various clients. Shanness gave me a complete tour of both places, answering my many questions. I would have loved to spend more time at the St Ann Centre and get to experience in more depth the programme offered. I hope to be able to return in the future to conduct some research in this fascinating place.