Neighborhood Heroes By Sabrina Marshall
Aug 01, 2017 12:43AM
By Elena Hutslar
Neighborhood Heroes: Merging Adult Care & Preschool
By Sabrina Marshall
While many people take advantage of the changing seasons to do away with the old and bring in the new, the people at Choice in Aging are finding a perfect balance of both. CEO Debbie Toth has been working tirelessly to introduce a new type of education to the community – Intergenerational Programs. Designed to bring together the elderly at Choice in Aging and preschoolers at the former Fountainhead Montessori Preschool, it’s an entirely new learning experience.
Several months ago, those leasing both facilities decided they wanted to level and rebuild in order to improve their services. With that decision, they decided to renew the lease for their spaces only through June of 2018, giving everyone plenty of time to come up with alternatives before the renovations began. However, those leasing the preschool space decided to close their doors early, in June of this year, leaving families and faculty confused and scrambling for a replacement. Toth knew she wanted to help, not only as a caregiver for over 15 years but as a friend to many of those involved with the preschool — many of whom thought she was associated in the preschool tenant’s decision. “I had colleagues that I’ve worked with for years call me and say, “Why are you evicting this preschool?’“ said Toth. Having debated numerous times about the idea of taking on the preschool themselves, Toth thought there was no better time. After brief issues with the state over the significance of adult health care, the preschool became an even more important source of funds. “It wasn’t just that there was this issue of parents losing their services,” said Toth, “but the supplement that we use to pay our staff to fund these programs was being lost.” In order to keep their center running and provide these families with a stable education, the board agreed to take it.
However, ambition comes with hard work — the preschool building was bare, the play structure uprooted, and the amenities sparse. What Toth needed was time and helping hands, so she reached out to an overwhelmingly supportive crowd, bringing in 114 volunteers who gave 475 combined hours of labor over the July 1 weekend. The crew refreshed, repainted, and renewed the small preschool for a soft opening that Monday. “It was a pretty incredible feat to get accomplished over two days, plus the fact that volunteers did all of that work,” said Toth. Preschool Director Gina Velez couldn’t help but repeat how thankful she was for Toth’s commitment to the betterment of the school. From working on a state grant to helping build a new play structure, to re-hiring a majority of the preschool’s previous faculty, Toth’s involvement has been inspiring. Velez said this was their chance to make the preschool their own and be involved in the process from the ground up.
Velez is excited for the new opportunities kids will have, including finally joining their adult neighbors in games of volleyball, putting on little performances, and maybe trick-or-treating throughout both facilities on Halloween. Toth has her own ideas too, wanting to involve the kids in the facility’s already-underway horticulture therapy program and seeing the joy the children will bring their seniors.
Both Toth and Velez agree a play structure is of utmost importance. Not only is outside play fundamental for children, but Toth expects to bring in another opportunity to mix kids and adults. “The spaces where the children would play and learn [would be] surrounded by a perimeter of equipment that is accessible to folks with disabilities and aging related frailty,” said Toth. “It’s appropriate for this particular population but also a healthier senior population.” In addition to all the fun both women have planned, they have similar hopes for what this program will do for seniors and children alike; “Intergenerational programming is a mutually beneficial engagement in activities together; it’s not a learning experience about aging per se,” says Toth. Velez put it best, expressing how important it will be for the kids to see we don’t dismiss our elders as life gets more difficult; we take care of them.
The grand opening of the Choice in Learning Montessori Preschool and Child Care and the launch of these new intergenerational programs is set for September. However, with all the prep work needed to prepare a fun space for 90 new kids aged 2-6, it could be later in fall. Regardless, with people as dedicated to their community as Toth and Velez at the helm, these programs are sure to bring new life to our community.
Choice in Aging Home
490 Golf Club Road,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523