Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

2008

Brenda Krause Eheart

Brenda Krause Eheart receives the Heinz Award in the Human Condition for finding a solution to the nation's confounding issue of foster care adoption.

A pioneering foster care advocate, Dr. Brenda Krause Eheart has created an innovative model of community living that boldly confronts the inherent failures within the traditional system of adopting children out of foster care. As the founder of Generations of Hope and the intergenerational community, Hope Meadows, where foster children, their adoptive parents and senior citizens live as neighbors, Dr. Eheart has advanced a groundbreaking solution to a confounding issue - the nation's anachronistic system of foster care adoption.

In founding Generations of Hope, Dr. Eheart has established an inventive model for mutual support that has provided a renewed sense of meaning for countless Americans. Her dream of creating a place where children - particularly the more than 129,000 children waiting in foster care to be adopted in the United States - would be adopted by caring parents who would themselves be supported by full-time therapists and psychologists, has grown in size and scope. By incorporating seniors into her vision, she has given birth to a vibrant new paradigm of interdependent community living, one which fosters a caring and supportive environment for all.

After adopting an infant boy herself, Dr. Eheart (at the time with the University of Illinois and a specialist in behavioral sciences and sociology) conducted a 10-year study on adoption and the foster care system in Illinois, interviewing families that had adopted some of the older wards of the state. Her research found that foster children were typically placed in multiple homes before age 18, a situation due largely to a lack of social and emotional support. In fact, half of the nation's foster children who age out of foster care never finish high school.

Such statistics propelled her in 1994 to found Generations of Hope, creating a breakthrough model that works like this: In exchange for agreeing to take in three to four children, adoptive families live rent-free in large homes, with the stay-at-home parent receiving a modest salary. More experienced foster and adoptive parents mentor newer families. The seniors in the community pay monthly rent - about $100 below market rates - for their apartments. Therapists, social workers and counselors work on site with the foster and adoptive families. The diverse neighborhood creates intergenerational friendships that benefit residents of all ages, and it is these relationships that are the key to the community's success.

Brenda Eheart's innovative model of multigenerational community living is helping find permanent, caring homes for many of America's foster children, and by engaging and involving senior citizens within the community, she is enriching the quality of life for everyone involved. She has succeeded in breaking down walls - real and metaphorical - that have segregated those who can truly benefit from one another's support and love.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

September 2011 - Brenda Krause Eheart receives the In Harmony with Hope Award from the Elfenworks Foundation, for her work developing Hope Meadows, a community where families adopting three to four foster kids and senior citizens live rent-free in exchange for creating a supportive, permanent family environment for the children. - Elfenworks

December 2009 - For the eighth year, AARP The Magazine salutes outstanding individuals who are using their energy, creativity, and passion to make the world a better place. Brenda Krause Eheart is honored for creating Hope Meadows, a widely regarded model for intergenerational life in Rantoul, Illinois. - AARP The Magazine

Speech

Acceptance Speech - 10/21/2008

Thank you so much Mrs. Heinz.

This award truly belongs to the people of Hope Meadows, the quiet heroes that Senator Heinz so frequently championed. As parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors and yes, as children - they excel.

I am often asked how I came up with the idea for Hope Meadows and those who know me well know that I simply could not stand watching children continually go through the revolving door of foster care. I thought of what that would be like for my children. I ask you to do the same, and it is unthinkable. I wanted for those children the very same things that my parents wanted for me and what my husband and I wanted for our children - parents who were always there providing unconditional love and commitment, and friends and neighbors who were always around in good times and in bad. Growing up in this environment, I never knew a day as a child where I did not feel safe, secure and that I belonged.

I took all of this for granted growing up. But there are hundreds and thousands of youth in this country including many that are not in foster care who cannot take family and community for granted. To change this, the people of Hope Meadows have taught me that part of the solution is to realize the promise of ordinary people to live the Heinz motto of doing common things uncommonly well.

Thank you.

Brenda Krause Eheart