In 1983, Milwaukee sister Edna Lonergan had the original idea of caring for the elderly and the disabled. She named her program Adult Daycare, which is designed for the elderly and the disabled who cannot take care of themselves when family members are not at home. Several years later, Sr. Edna expanded the adult daycare program to include child daycare. She said, “When you bring children and adults together for planned and informal activities, from everyday exercise to making art and music, children benefit from one-on-one attention from raising adults, who benefit by sharing wisdom and skills. Children, make a family. ” It all happens under the non-profit umbrella of St. Anne’s Center for International Care.
But let Sr. Edna tell this remarkable story. There are two St. Anne Center campuses. The original is in Bay View, but I met her at a new location on the north side, Busyras Campus (2450 W. North Ave.). This large building is an inviting oasis in the shaded areas of mostly deprived black residents. With a cascade of white hair, Sister Edna spreads the message of the Prophet with her gentle demeanor. It is as if the trust has a personality.
Tell me about your background, where you grew up, the school you went to, your parents and how you got involved with the sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.
I was born in Quincy, Massachusetts. My mother was a housewife who gave birth to seven children. She was happy and very creative. My father was an electrical engineer and he worked for the Boston Naval Shipyard and later in Newport he helped develop some naval war games. At the age of three, I met a nun, a tall sister who had a perfect habit. I looked at her and decided that was what I wanted. By the time I was 13, I was working at St. Coletta School in Brentry, Massachusetts, helping children with developmental disabilities. I did housework, polished floors, peeled potatoes. One day, a sister asked me if I wanted to join The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi and go into religious life. Our family moved to Newport, but I eventually moved to a motherhouse in Milwaukee at the age of 14. That was 1956. I attended high school at St. Mary’s Academy, which no longer exists. It was a time of learning.
What happened after you graduated from high school?
I did my postulance, one year training for religious life. I took my oath at the age of 21 and promised to serve God. I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a nurse. I studied at the Sacred Heart School of Nursing and I was a nurse for a few years, then went to Cardinal Streich University. I wanted to be an occupational therapist and so I went to Mount Mary University for a few years. After that, I opened a professional rehabilitation department in the Sisters of St. Francis on the south side.
As director of rehabilitation, I supervised physical and speech therapists. But I wanted to go deeper and ask if I could get a postgraduate degree in gerontology from the state of North Texas. While I was graduating in Texas, we visited a lady at her home to take care of three elderly people and I thought if we could do that, we could open an adult day care in Milwaukee. It was a new concept in the 1970s to take care of the elderly during the day so that they could stay home with their families at night, instead of taking them to a nursing home before moving there.
How did your adult daycare event in Milwaukee come about?
The sisters said that if I could get a grant, I would be able to start my daycare program. I applied for a block grant, and the county supervisor voted four to three times to grant the grant. मोठ्या 21,000 to care for 11 elderly people throughout the year in a large room in our healthcare facility. We started with two grandmothers and two older men. We rehabilitated, entertained and fed them. That was 1983.
When was the intergenerational program, a mix of children and adults?
The adult daycare program was new and innovative, and it kept growing. We needed more space and I moved to the basement of the motherhouse. I renovated the basement with more grant money. And then we were working with people of all ages, not just the elderly, some strokes or developmental disabilities. We needed more staff. The women who had children came and helped, but when their children came home from school, I lost some of these women as my staff. I told them, ‘Bring your children.’ They did and the magic happened.
What is magic?
For example, there is the story of Frank, who suffered a stroke while sitting in a wheelchair. Kids love to sit on his lap and move around in a wheelchair. Frank had a serious illness twice a week. One day, a little girl named Kathy was sitting in her wheelchair with Frank. I could see his jerk coming, but then little Cathy wrapped her arms around Frank. It was a sweet gesture – and Frank was never shocked. I thought, why are we differentiating between age groups? They should communicate. Some men taught children how to fish and women taught children to have tea parties. It was fun to have kids around. I saw that we were all one big family.
You keep expanding. How did St. Anne International Daycare Center happen on the south side? This is very complicated.
I had a friend, Marty Stein. I told him I wanted to create an intergenerational daycare center that would help people of all ages. He helped me raise $ 10 million to build a new building, called the St. Anne Stein Campus. It was completed in 1999. Marty and Tim Sullivan, then CEOs of Busiras International, also helped raise 10 million for the construction of what is now known as the St. Anne Center Stein Campus. It was completed in 1999.
Next, you built the Busyras Campus on the north side in the middle of the 53205 and 53206 pin codes. How did this project come about?
I wanted to provide a daycare center in the poorest part of Milwaukee, where we are currently sitting. My big helper was Tim Sullivan again. That’s why we call it our Bucyrus Campus. It was completed in 2015 at a cost of 21 million. At 80,000 square feet, it’s larger than the first campus. Most of our staff are recruited from this area, which means we do our best to ensure that local residents work for us.
We love seeing locals run businesses and we try to help. In this building, we have a lady who makes soap and cream and rents space for her business near the main entrance, called Alokui. Soon, she’s going to her own shop. And, next to us, is the office of BIZSTARTS. They help people start new businesses and we give them free space for Saturday training.
How many employees do you have at St. Anne’s Center?
We have about 200 employees for both campuses. To date, we have registered 106 adult daycare clients of all ages on this campus. We will be opening a special unit for young disabled adults interested in computers and electronics.
Let’s talk about our childcare facility. We have a state-of-the-art playground here.
We actually have five playgrounds, properly designed for each age group.
Do the kids stay here all day?
From Monday to Friday, from 7 am to 5 pm, our childcare starts all day long! Depending on the parent’s work schedule, some parents may need to take care of their children daily for a few hours before or after school, some may need only three mornings a week and some may need a full day. We care for babies up to six weeks old and children up to 12 years old.
The idea is to teach children to be kind. Currently, we have the capacity to care for 45 children here, and we have a long waiting list, but we do not have enough teachers. The good news is that we have recently hired three teachers from Kenya.
Do parents of these children have to pay for childcare?
If they qualify for a program like Early Head Start or Wisconsin Shares, they don’t. But those who can afford it pay.
I think you call your procedure intergenerational care.
We also provide an intergenerational home-like setting. We specialize in compassion, care and dignity. We bring together all age groups, from six weeks to 100 years. Young people learn to respect and socialize with all kinds of people, and older adults enjoy making children’s friends – which keeps them physically and emotionally healthy. It’s also good for our kids to be around people who look different. If we have this kind of intergenerational care more, I firmly believe that schools will have less bullying, more tolerance and compassion.
I read that you design jewelry out of many of your artistic talents. The sale of your jewelry is for a good cause, right?
Yes, it is. Years ago, we used to sell regular ramez with items donated by people to help raise money to cover our operating expenses. The vintage jewelry donated by the people sold so well that we started focusing on it. Then, I learned to design my own jewelry. Proceeds from the sale of my jewelry and donated vintage jewelry go here for a bath for our adult customers.
Many of our clients have difficulty or instability in movement and can no longer go to their home tub or shower – and they can no longer pay for our bathing service. Depending on a person’s disability, it costs us about 25 to take a bath. We are always looking for new ways to help people.
St. Anne’s Center for Intergenerational Care-Busy Campus offers a free Wednesday evening family-friendly entertainment series called Indaba Nights for all ages. The series will air from August 31 at Indaba Band Shell, 2450 W. It will be held at North Ave. from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.