Brenda Krause Eheart
Generations of Hope Development Corporation
Purpose Prize Fellow 2009
Eheart helps foster kids and at-risk youth beat the odds by establishing intergenerational, residential communities that create a sense of extended family for all generations
At 58, Brenda Eheart took early retirement from her decades-long career as a university professor to put her research on the struggles foster kids face into action. “I could not write these things up for academic journals and not do anything about it. I just thought about what I’d want for my own kids.” Her strategy: avoid uphill battles in the traditional foster care system by shifting the problem-solving focus away from social service interventions to members of a multi-generational, residential community who feel — and act — like an extended family. She’d already figured out how to make this work at Hope Meadows, a community she started while still working at the University of Illinois. A five-block, small-town neighborhood on a former air force base, parents at Hope adopt three or four children and are compensated with an annual salary, health benefits, and free housing; older residents serve as surrogate grandparents and mentors in exchange for reduced rent and increased well-being; and together, three generations heal the hurt of abuse and neglect. Hope has a 90% adoption rate, there are three older adult households for every adoptive family, and every young person who has stayed at Hope Meadows until their late teens has either graduated from high school or received a GED. In 2006, she started Generations of Hope Development Corporation to build more residential communities that support families of foster children, stabilize teen moms and homeless youth, and assist young mothers in turning their lives around after being in jail or on drugs.