The adage “it takes a village to raise a child” is taking form near downtown Mesa.
There, the community “Hope Village” is under construction, preparing to be a place for parents with foster care children to live together with senior citizens ready to be “adopted grandparents” to the families.
The idea came to Mesa through the vision of Marie Lanzon.
Lanzon’s “day job” is a pediatric nurse. She’s worked with some of the toughest cases, children in residential treatment centers or those under rehabilitative care.
Daily, she meets children in foster care, who make up a vast majority of her cases.
“You put a history of trauma on top of being bounced around … I agonized about this,” Lanzon said.
At a friend’s suggestion, she became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) to work with children going through the Arizona court system. She learned the situation was worst than she’d realized.
“Sixty percent of kids who age out (of foster care) and are never adopted end up in the legal system or homeless,” she said.
Her research for an answer led to Illinois, where she discovered Hope Meadows, a multigenerational community created for families who take in foster care children for adoption and senior citizens who are retired, but feel they have more to give.
Hope Meadows was created more than 15 years ago by Brenda Krause Eheart. Working with the government, she purchased 60 homes on a former Air Force base to form her vision.
“Brenda found that when you surround kids with community and family, there’s support. So if the kids are having issues, the parents are not alone,” Lanzon said.
In a 2009 video about Hope Meadows, Krause Eheart expresses her belief in this.
“It’s clear to us that the key to making families work, vulnerable families work, is meaningful relationships and purposeful engagement and that’s what we have here,” she said.
“Everyone there has this mindset of giving back,” Lanzon said of her visit to Hope Meadows. “They just have a lot to offer these families.”
Determined to put her idea into motion, Lanzon started “knocking on doors” to bring her idea to reality.
She found a builder willing to take on the project — Gorman Construction. And she found help through Mesa’s Save the Family.
Arizona has more than 14,000 children the foster-care system, she said, and more than 3,000 qualify to be adopted now.
“There are kids in foster care in every single county in Arizona. There are low-income seniors who want to live in a community,” she said. “Our goal is to have a vibrant, intergenerational community. We need these communities all over, but this is the pilot project … The concept is not just of getting them adopted, but getting them with a family and support system.”
Lanzon’s idea needed money. She discovered the low-income housing tax credit that is helping fund Hope Village AZ. But more money is needed.
The community will start with about 12 families, which means 24 to 48 children, she said. There will also be 36 to 72 seniors. Hope Village will eventually have 125 units.
Families can be just starting the foster certification process to quality for Hope Village. Seniors and families must “income qualify” she said, with leases running between $300 and $900 a month.
“We’re hoping this can be successful so we’ll hopefully, someday, have market-rate housing,” she said.
While Hope Village and Hope Meadows are not connected through any one organization, they — and the other communities like them in Massachusetts and Oregon — will follow each other’s lead, Lanzon said.
The existing communities in Chicago and Massachusetts were not designed for only low-income families, she said. The newest creation, in Portland, Ore., did use the low-income housing tax credit.
Grant writing and fund-raising are taking place, Lanzon said. A three-member board is in place to oversee it all.
“We’re really looking for contributions to help get us up and going,” she said.
With that in place, Lanzon hopes the first residents can move in about October.
Besides the apartments, Hope Village will have a community room, an after-school program room, a computer room and services available to residents through Save the Family, including job skill training. Other partnerships may be created.
To learn more, see www.hopevillageaz.org or contact Hope Village AZ at P.O. Box 13256 Scottsdale, Ariz., 85267-3256.
A permanent office for Hope Village AZ is being constructed near the site in Mesa, Lanzon said.
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