Fourteen years ago, Brenda Eheart created a community
founded on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Today
that village, Hope Meadows, is thriving and
serving as a model for other communities. VOA's Susan Logue reports.
winding street lined with mailboxes and houses with manicured lawns
looks like many residential neighborhoods in the United States. But
Hope Meadows is unique. The planned community has a special mission:
to support families who adopt children who, Brenda Eheart says, might
otherwise never have families of their own: "sibling groups, older
children, children with a lot of emotional problems - those children
would probably remain in the revolving door of foster care if it were
not for this program."
Helping foster families
foster care system provides temporary homes for children who have been
orphaned or removed from their birth families. Brenda Krause Eheart
designed Hope Meadows based on her research, which showed that
permanent adoptions of these children - some of whom had been abused or
neglected by their birth parents - often failed, and the children were
returned to foster care.
"Our children have been in at least
four different homes before they come to Hope Meadows, and some have
been in seven and twelve homes," Eheart notes.
believed that if families who adopted these children lived in a
community together with specially trained counselors to assist them,
the families would be better able to survive the challenges that faced
In 1994, Eheart was offered housing at a former
military base to establish her planned community about 200 kilometers
south of Chicago, in Rantoul, Illinois. But she was asked to fill more
houses than she planned to.
Retirees key to success
when she decided to bring retirees into the mix. Although it wasn't
part of her original plan, Eheart says, "That idea of having the
seniors there, giving them reduced rent in exchange for their providing
service and support to the community, has really been the one thing
that has made this community the success that it is. I do believe we
would have closed within three years without them."
Hope Meadows and the 12 families who live there are thriving. There
are even plans underway to replicate the community elsewhere, thanks to
a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
New communities following model
believes that within the next two years, other inter-generational
communities "will be popping up all over the U.S.," and some, she adds,
will be addressing other social concerns.
She has already
begun work in other states with young mothers who have completed a drug
treatment program. "If they can go to a community where they can get
affordable housing, where they can have grandparents, where they can
get support while they learn job skills, learn parenting skills, they
can have support through these relationships as well as their
children," Eheart explains.
Elsewhere in the U.S., she
says she is working with young mothers who have been in prison. She is
also considering programs to support young people who have been
convicted of crimes themselves and are coming out of the juvenile
Eheart, 64, grew up on a small dairy farm
in the Midwestern U.S. She says values she learned from her
hard-working parents, as much as her research into foster care, were
guiding forces that helped shape Hope Meadows.
certainly did not have much money," she recalls, "but in troubled times
my parents were always there, and my parents always sacrificed for the
Although her parents hadn't gone to college, she
says they made sure all the children did. "And when I see children in
a situation where they don't have that kind of caring adult in their
lives, I almost have a visceral reaction to it."
children who live in Hope Meadows - biological, adopted and foster -
have not only supportive parents, but also a whole community looking
out for them, including approximately 60 seniors.
Children help elderly neighbors
says the children have become caring individuals in return, caring for
their elderly neighbors: "stopping by to make sure they are okay,
calling them to make sure they are okay, bringing in their paper so
they don't have to get up out of their chair, walking their dog for
them day and night, [doing] all kinds of everyday things that would be
difficult for the older adults."
Regardless of how old or
how young we may be, we all want to be needed, says Brenda Eheart. At
Hope Meadows, everyone is. It is a community of caring individuals on
"In some ways this is such common sense, and
in some ways it's the way we would like to think this country could
be," Eheart says. With Brenda Eheart's guidance it is
becoming that way, one community at a time.
Her work was recently
honored once again, this time with a $250,000 private award from the
Heinz Family Foundation.
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