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DECATUR – With a bushy white beard and hair, Don Horne looks like Santa to the children who visit him at the Adult Day Care Center. And he takes full advantage of that, asking them if they've been good girls or boys when they stare. 

“I get all kinds of answers,” the grandfather said with a smile.

Since the connecting children's Decatur Day Care Center and the HSHS St. Mary's Hospital Adult Day Services building were built in 1994 the two generations of clients come together in a mutually beneficial relationship.

“It was for both the children and the elders to have this interactivity so they can both benefit from it,” said Barb McNut, nurse manager for Adult Day Services.

Twice a week the children walk over to spend time with their “grandmas” and “grandpas.” On Wednesdays, a small group of adults may visit the day care. Both sides look forward to the visits.

“Anything that we do over here we do with them,” said Janis Baldwin, executive director of the Decatur Day Care Center.

For Halloween, Easter and the Fourth of July the children dress up and parade through the center. At first, the children can be hesitant and shy. But they slowly start to open up.

“With the clients using wheelchairs and canes, when they're out in the community it doesn't frighten (the children) and they say 'hi,' ” McNut said. “That's definitely a benefit.”

Intergenerational collaborations such as this are becoming more common, according to the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Generations United.

“We're stronger together; it makes sense,” said the agency's Executive Director Donna Butts

Butts said it's called the “grandparent advantage” and happens when assisted living homes are built next to schools or adult and child day cares share the same space.

“It's wonderful when the generations come together,” Butts said. “It's a win-win-win.”

The seniors are more optimistic about life and are happy to pass on their wisdom and traditions. The parents are reassured their children are learning from an older generation, especially if they're not around their grandparents often. Children learn life skills and manners.

“They don't fear aging,” Butts said. “They see somebody who's 70 and they can be a friend as much as somebody who's 7.”

She added caretakers also benefit from happier clients and a lower turnover rate for employees.

There's also a growing number of adults who are sandwiched between caring for young children and their own parents, so shared sites are convenient.

Butts said parents may fear what may happen if an older friend dies. But Baldwin said that doesn't happen often and when it does they leave it up to the child's parents to talk about it.

Activities Director Julie Henderson has been with the Adult Day Care Center for 19 years. She said when the centers were first built, they were one of seven intergenerational sites in the U.S.

“We've always said we're the best known secret,” Henderson said.

She coordinates half of the activities the children and adults do together every year from dances and exercises to simple crafts.

“It brings back memories of when their own children were little or their grandchildren,” Henderson said. “Being around the kids makes them happy.”

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