Documentary filmmaker Evan Briggs had been on the lookout for years for a way to tell a story about aging in America.
She struck gold when she found out about the Intergenerational Learning Center in west Seattle, a daycare center and preschool housed within a retirement community.
Briggs spent 2012-13 filming the warm interactions between the residents of Providence Mount St. Vincent and their young neighbors for a documentary, “Present Perfect.” She launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to solicit $50,000 in donations to allow her to finish the film, but has sailed far beyond that goal as the story of her effort was picked up by People, the Today Show, CNN, and other media outlets. At the time of this writing, the documentary effort has raised over $100,000 with more than 1,900 backers. Briggs and her team are hoping to get to 2,500 backers before the fundraiser ends Thursday.
The interest is easy to understand, because the children and the older adults are so charming. Here’s a short excerpt, which has already garnered more than 2 million views on YouTube.
The interactions between the residents and the children are both impromptu and plannted, Briggs said. The residents may choose to visit a classroom on their own, or they may get together with the children for scheduled activities like reading or making sandwiches for a local soup kitchen. The children also visit the bedsides of willing residents.
Children do not have the opportunities they once did to interact with people much older than their parents, and this center facilitates those chance encounters, Briggs said in an interview.
Also, both older adults and young children are used to needing help from others."One of the things I witnessed was the way they were able to work together—the young and old—that typically would have required intervention from another adult,” Briggs said. “It was one way they could feel they could help each other, rather than being helped. It was empowering, and there aren’t too many ways for them to feel empowered.”
Preschool Focuses on Social-Emotional Learning
I told both Briggs and Marie Hoover, the director of the daycare/preschool, that I teared up watching the video. Hoover said she did as well: Seeing the interactions through the eyes of an observer helped remind her about the special moments that happen every day between the very old and the very young at the center.
The Intergenerational Learning Center opened in 1991, after discussions at the retirement community about how to make the facility more home-like. One of the obvious missing elements was children.
The center cares for about 120 children from 6 weeks to 6 years old, and has never had fewer than 450 families on its waiting list, Hoover said. The recent attention has swelled the waiting list even more.
The center’s focus is social-emotional learning, so “virtually every decision we make, a lot of work we do in the classroom and visiting with residents is just incorporated into that,” Hoover said.
And the Intergenerational Learning Center is not the only daycare/preschool of its kind, Hoover said. The advocacy group Generations United has more information about intergenerational “shared spaces,” including a directory of other co-located preschools and senior centers.
Briggs has found since the filming that she has tried to incorporate intergenerational interactions into her life. For example, she invited older neighbors to her child’s birthday party, something she might not have considered before working on the documentary.
“I hope this will encourage all of us to reach out,” Briggs said.
Photo: A resident of Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle reads to children enrolled in the Intergenerational Learning Center, a daycare and preschool located within a retirement community.—Courtesy Evan Briggs
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.