From an article in the New York Times linked below.
“In the great tradition of grandmas and grandchildren, Irene Bohm, 84, and Charlie Laws, 8, delight in a little well-earned indulgence. “We watch movies, eat pizza, play games,” said Charlie, as he snuggled in a chair alongside her.They are not related, and live a few doors apart. But there is no mistaking that they are on a great adventure together. “He calls in the morning and says, ‘Grandma, how are you?’ ” said Ms. Bohm, so touched by his sweetness that her eyes glistened.”
“This is Generations of Hope, a nonprofit adoption agency that has designed a community to resemble a nurturing small town, complete with surrogate grandparents. Created out of a shuttered Air Force base, Generations of Hope seeks to rescue children from foster care and place them with adoptive parents who have moved here. About 30 children currently live with parents in 10 homes. The community is also home to 42 older people who have subsidized rent.”
“At the outset, Generations of Hope had the advantage of using existing homes left by the closing of Chanute Air Force Base. The new sites, more typically, will need to be developed from scratch, on donated land.”
“Adoptive parents earn $19,000 and live rent-free in one of the split-level ranch-style homes built for the base. The older residents, who agree to do community service, like tutoring or yard work, pay a reduced rent of $300.”
At the heart of the program is the ethos that parenthood and grandparenthood are permanent.
“I know of two ways to raise children: you have them biologically or you adopt them,” said Dr. Eheart, a former researcher at the University of Illinois. “Foster care is an oxymoron.”
“The children here have often lived at four or five foster homes before they arrive at Generations of Hope, and they are often in sibling groups, which makes placement more difficult.
While children and adoptive parents are carefully matched, the youngsters form alliances with the older residents more informally, over time. And the transitions are not always easy. These are children who have little reason to trust, and the older residents sometimes need to adjust to boys and girls who have come up the hard way. And neighbors, even those on good-hearted missions, do not always see eye to eye.
“We have our ups and downs,” Ms. Bohm said.
For the most part, it works. Before she came here 14 years ago, Ms. Bohm, a retired schoolteacher and widow who never had children, said she was “bored and lonely and feeling like maybe I should just hang it up.”
“Her role as beloved grandmother for Charlie and his three siblings evolved from her friendship with the children’s adoptive mother, Jeanette Laws, a neighbor of Ms. Bohm’s. Ms. Laws needed the older woman’s help while working at a high school in Champaign and trying to raise four children, including her daughter Shamon, now 20, and her sons Brandon, 19, and Angelo, 9.
Ms. Bohm tutored Brandon in every subject and showed a grandmother’s unconditional love in some very tough times. Despite some misadventures along the way, Brandon found the right path. Now a college student in Rhode Island, he recently came home for a visit to surprise his adoptive grandmother.”
When some children arrive at Generations of Hope, they feel confused and isolated. But Ms. Bohm tells them she knows the feeling. At 13, she was sent to a convent, against her wishes, to become a nun. It was her father’s choice of vocation for her, “not mine,” she recalled. On the drive to the convent in Joliet, she said she had “prayed to God we would have a wreck,” so that she would not have to go. She spent many nights crying. “I never belonged there,” said Ms. Bohm. She left the order in her 40s.”
“Irene is going to live long past 84,” Dr. Eheart said, “because she knows she’s got to see Charlie through high school.”