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Iowa Retirement Home Has A Childcare Center Where Seniors Help Take Care Of Little Kids — 'This Is The Best Part Of My Day'

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retiree with a baby

A lack of adequate childcare and seniors facing loneliness and isolation are problems in every part of the country. One Iowa retirement home decided to solve both problems with one solution, and it's had a positive impact for everyone involved.

The Iowa retirement home has a childcare center where seniors help care for littles ones.

Between rising costs and widespread staffing shortages, communities all over the country are struggling to meet the needs of parents, resulting in as many as 100,000 parents per month missing at least a day of work because of a lack of childcare, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and millions more either leaving the workforce or getting fired because of childcare access issues.

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Like many parts of the country, Iowa has been suffering a childcare shortage stretching back several years, which only worsened during the pandemic. In the city of Waterloo, the Friendship Village retirement community came up with an inventive solution back in 2019 — they opened a childcare center on-site, It Takes A Village childcare, staffed in part by the retirees themselves.

At first, the center was for employees' use, but it soon expanded to families in the surrounding area as well. The program has been a huge success for parents and retirees alike, in part because it provides far more than just childcare.

Retirement home leaders say the childcare center both serves the area's childcare needs and bridges the gap between generations.

It Takes A Village has become a godsend for Friendship Village's employees — they can simply drop their children off before their shifts, then walk across the street and begin their shifts, no commuting back and forth necessary. 

   

   

Allowing retirees living at Friendship Village to help out in the childcare center takes care of the area's substantial staffing shortages. The childcare center's capacity is limited by its staff members, so including the seniors helps expand the number of kids the center is able to take care of.

But the arrangement has more than just logistical benefits. Lisa Gates, the Executive Director of Friendship Village, told local NBC affiliate KWWL that It Takes A Village provides opportunities for "littles" to get to know elderly people and form a sense of respect for the aged, especially for those kids who might not have grandparents nearby. 

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The childcare center also gives seniors a sense of purpose, and many say it's their favorite part of the day. 

As much as the senior volunteers help the childcare workers and parents using the service, it almost seems like it's the seniors themselves who are getting the most out of It Takes A Village. 

She said that for many of the retirees, being able to play and bond with the children helps them deal with the distance between some of them and their families who live out of town. 

   

   

For others, their grandchildren have already grown up, so it allows the retirees to relive the fun parts of being a grandparent. And it's definitely having an impact. 

Tracy Newton, who runs the childcare center, told KWWL that when the seniors volunteer, "they say 'this is the best part of my day. I'm so glad I came here, I just might stay for lunch.'

And that enthusiasm is likely having a major impact on the seniors' lives. Studies have shown that social isolation and a lack of purposeful activity are widespread problems among the elderly with negative impacts not only on mental health, but on cognitive ability. Isolation has been shown to increase risk of dementia by 50%, for instance. 

As Gates put it to KWWL, spending time with the kids "[brings] value to folks that are in their retirement years where you wake up in the morning and go 'well now what do I do?'" 

And that sense of purpose has even been shown to have physical benefits — a 2017 study found that seniors with goals and a sense of meaning to their lives had faster walking speeds and stronger grip strength, two key markers for declining physical ability in the elderly.

In short, helping out with the kids at the childcare center is not only helping the community while giving the seniors a much-needed infusion of connection, but it just might be quite literally keeping them young well into their golden years.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.