Imagine a place: Tiny Tiger Intergenerational Center marks 10 years of innovation
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — “Imagine a place where a 98-year-old is feeding an infant, where an 87-year-old is sharing her walker with a youngster who’s just learning to walk, and where a 4-year-old suddenly discovers that her 78-year-old friend has to take out his teeth to brush them. Imagine a place where people of all ages come together, interacting, exploring, and guiding. Imagine a place where people build meaningful relationships.” — This quote from the Macklin Institute reflects what organizers had in mind in establishing a center that would combine to care for multiple generations, create a learning environment, and establish bonds among those served.
“Seventeen years ago in January, the family and consumer education teacher Jane Wagner would take her students once a semester for maybe 45 minutes and walk to our center, which is right on Peach,” said Child Care Centers of Marshfield administrator Sue Babcock. “They would spend actually like 30 minutes by the time they walked over and walked back, and that was it.
“Some students came to her and said, ‘Mrs. Wagner, this isn’t fair. We’re learning about how to take care of children, and we don’t get to work with children.’
“When she came to me she said, ‘The kids in the automotive department get to work on automobiles frequently. The kids in the chemistry lab get to work on chemistry, and biology, carpentry, all those things, they get a lab every day, and we have the most important thing in our children, and our students don’t get to work with them.’”
From there Wagner and Babcock began working on a concept to bring a child care facility into the Marshfield School District not operated by the district but ran independently.
An addition was drawn up next to Marshfield High School’s greenhouse that would accommodate 30 children.
“So we started raising money, and we got some interest, but we got a lot of kickback, ‘This is going to be for those teen moms,’” said Babcock. “It wasn’t intended to be for teen moms whatsoever. It was intended to be for paying people who needed child care, and we would provide it and subcontract.
“A lot of kickback from the community, no one wanted to do it.”
A year later, organizers held a children’s festival and began raising funds. Shortly after, land became available to the west of Marshfield High School. Babcock and Wagner next started working with a developer out of Manitowoc.
“He did all of the legwork for the next year, put up this building. We didn’t put a penny down, nothing, and we were just going to rent,” said Babcock. “Then he said, ‘After a year, you can purchase it.’ It was just like everything seemed to line up perfectly.”
At the same time, the pair began the 4K pilot program for the center, and when the building was ready, they moved in.
“Some time in that first year before we started building, we went to Shawano,” recalled Babcock. “They had an intergenerational center with an adult day care and child day care.
“We went over and saw how the interactions were, and it was amazing.”
Babcock and Wagner changed the center’s focus to intergenerational, where it would address the needs of seniors and adults — loneliness, helplessness, and boredom — and those of children — exploration, interaction, and guidance — while providing a learning environment for high school students.
“We are the only one in the nation that has all three together: high school students in a learning environment, child care, and then the adults,” said Babcock.
Companion Day Services
The Companion Day Services program is licensed to offer adult care in a homelike environment and today provides emotional, mental, and physical support for 24 adults.
The facility has cared for nearly 150 individuals over the past 10 years.
“They come during the day,” explained Companion Day Services Director Shannon Soyk. “The clients that we serve are 18 and older. Some of them may be living home alone and need a place to socialize.”
The program provides a social environment for those senior adults who attend, which includes intergenerational visits each day.
“A different age group comes in and works with their ‘grandfriends.’ That’s what they call them,” added Soyk.
An educational experience
The education programs facilitated through the Tiny Tiger Intergenerational Center prepare students for various careers, give them experiences to explore career options, and provide a certification opportunity in the first intergenerational career-based program in Wisconsin.
“We have a Human Services Academy. The whole thing was started with our Careers for Kids class, and it’s a state-certified class where the students earn certification to work in child care,” said RaeAnn Leonhardt, family and consumer education teacher. “The law says that you have to be 18 to work in child care or 17 with the certificate. It’s called the Assistant Child Care Teacher certificate.
“One of the requirements is that they have to spend 10 hours working with kids, so that is where the need is for our part.”
The school has several classrooms that meet at the Tiny Tiger Center throughout the day.
“It is by far the best part of our department,” added Leonhardt. “It’s a great learning tool.”
The Child Care Center
The program that began it all started with 30 children and has now grown to provide care for 114 children. Classrooms are divided between nursery age, 0-10 months; tiddler age, 10-18 months; toddler age, 14-24 months; 2-year-olds; 3-year-olds; and 4-year-olds.
The program aims to establish an environment where children may develop emotionally, socially, and intellectually.
No one is more agreeable to this than Companion Day Services participant Alayne Reineke.
While working with the Marshfield School District at the onset of Tiny Tiger’s development, Reineke had verbally expressed extreme opposition to the program. When she later became debilitated in the first year of the Companion Day Services offerings, she began to see the benefit of the reciprocal needs environment.
“When my husband decided that he needed to get me out of the house because I was really confined in the wheelchair, we came out here,” said Reineke. “I have been coming here Tuesday and Thursday since March of 2007, exactly 10 years.
“It’s wonderful. I’ve watched them come and go. … I go to the nursery usually after lunch. … All I can do is rock them and feed them.
“There are still some that call me Grandma Alayne.”