Volunteers from nonprofit Generations Village have been working to hone a dream of a better future for populations that face serious challenges: foster children, foster families and older adults.
Their idea has gone from a vague notion to a specific vision, complete with a location – the city of Willard, on a site where architectural renderings depict houses and a community center where these populations can come together to support one another.
In the week before Christmas, the Generations Village team received some good news from the Missouri Housing Development Commission. The group had been granted state and federal tax credits and an MHDC loan that will allow the drawings to come to life.
Through St. Louis-based Trinity Housing Development LLC, which specializes in senior and family housing projects, Generations Village was approved for $900,000 in federal tax credits, $630,000 in state tax credits and an MHDC permanent loan of $1.3 million, according to MHDC.
MHDC administers both 9% state and 9% federal low-income housing tax credits, which allow for production of affordable rental housing. According to the Congressional Research Service, the 9% credit is reserved for new construction and intended to deliver up to a 70% subsidy.
The latest figures from the Missouri Department of Social Services, from September 2021, show there are 14,265 children in foster care in the Show-Me State – about 400 more than the year before.
The organization iFoster, which supports children in foster care, reports there were 5,007 licensed foster homes in the state in 2020.
The crisis is clear: There just aren’t enough places for Missouri’s foster children to go to receive the care, support and encouragement they need to thrive.
While two vulnerable populations, foster kids and older adults, will be served, nonprofit officials say foster parents will benefit with an opportunity to give and receive support and expertise with their neighbors. There will be homes for foster families, senior units with individual bedrooms and shared common spaces, and four to six units for youths aging out of foster care.
Jan Furr, secretary of the Generations Village Board of Directors, had the idea for the community in 2016, but she wasn’t the only one. At the same time she was imagining a supportive environment where foster children could live, Kristiann Hudson was, too. And both stumbled onto information about Treehouse Foundation, a Massachusetts community that brings foster children and older adults together to enhance each other’s lives.
“They had some amazing outcomes for kids,” Hudson said. “I wondered if we could bring something like that to this area.”
Furr had the same impulse.
“God just tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You live in a great area with a lot of problems and a lot of good people who will step on board and help,’” Furr said. “You know how he does – he just kept talking to me.”
Inspiration brought together a group that became volunteers and, ultimately, a board of directors, and the Generations Village team began planning in earnest, officially registering as a nonprofit in March 2017.
Generations Village will serve a maximum of 72 kids, according to Furr – and that’s about 12% of the children needing foster care placement in Greene County.
The organization first submitted a funding application to MHDC in 2020, but they were unsuccessful. According to Furr, most projects do not receive funding with their first application.
“Now, the people at MHDC have seen the concept and have a feel for who we are,” Furr said. “We’ve been able to run ideas by them.”
According to Furr, Generations Village will be the first intergenerational foster/elder community in the state.
Furr said having their application denied in 2020 showed the group how to make the 2021 application stronger.
“It really afforded us an opportunity to get almost more of a partnership with them,” she said.
She added the board is committed to its motto: “Rooted in love to flourish in life.”
The board has nine members, and the project has a detailed website and an active fundraising team. At this point, there are no paid staff.
Similar efforts elsewhere
Easthampton, Massachusetts-based Treehouse Foundation, which Generations Village is partly modeled upon, reports it has made great strides since it was founded in 2006. Nationally, foster youths have a 58% high school graduation rate, but Treehouse youths graduate at a rate of 95%.
Hudson noted she has seen some teens graduate from high school with only a case manager showing up to cheer them on. That’s not the scenario for foster children at Treehouse.
“Some of these kids have nine grandparents from their community who are there at their graduation,” she said.
Treehouse also reports 100% of its members attending college or vocational training, compared with a national average for foster kids of under 10%. While 33%-45% of foster children repeat one or more grades in school nationally, the number drops to 2% at Treehouse. The arrest rate nationally for foster kids is 46%; for Treehouse kids, it’s 0%.
New Life Village, a Tampa, Florida-based intergenerational foster community, reports similar outcomes. There, 88% of children have improved their grades since moving to the village; even more importantly to organizers, 100% of children say they feel they are an important part of their family.
James Switzer, Generations Village’s board treasurer, said he, too, felt motivated by the organization’s mission.
In his work at Central Bank of the Ozarks, some employees were involved in Eden Village, a tiny home community for formerly homeless people with disabilities.
“That was an organization that really spoke to me, and I really at the time didn’t get involved like I wish I would have,” Switzer said. “I had not heard of Generations Village, so when I learned a little more about what the mission was, what the plan was, it was something that seemed right for me.”
Switzer said this is his first endeavor with nonprofit work, and he’s excited about what’s to come.
“We’ve got a fantastic partner with our developer that’s really helped guide us through this process,” he said.
Local partners listed on the Generations Village website include Central Bank of the Ozarks, Central Trust, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri.
A general contractor has not yet been secured. Wallace Architects LLC, of Columbia, is the architectural firm for the project.
Board officials say they will meet with Trinity later this month to pin down an estimated completion date for the project.
The expanded facility is expected to reach annual revenue of $650M.