A roomful of 80-some seniors at Kingsley House’s Adult Day Health Care sing along to a strumming guitar. Mary Agnes Schroeder, age 86, has her hands busy knitting a scarf the entire time. “I’ve been doing this all my life,” says Schroeder. “Sometimes when I’m working on one thing, something else pops into my mind. And I forget what I’m working on and go start something. It really relaxes me. It really do.”
Mary Schroeder says she knits constantly.
“Every day, even in my sleep, believe it or not. Because I have patterns in my head that I think about, and I get up the next morning and I’m a start that pattern. Whatever I have in my mind, I starts it. I’m sitting out here talking and doing all of this. It helps me with my health too,” continues Schroeder. “Because I don’t think about being sick. See my knees and everything is gone, but I don’t think about that. I’m busy with my fingers.”
Keith Liederman is the Chief Executive Officer at Kingsley House. He says the Adult Services program — which is one of many programs offered by Kingsley House — is mostly for folks who are medically fragile. “These are folks that if they weren’t coming here would otherwise likely be in a nursing home placement,” says Liederman. “So it’s really a community based alternative to unnecessary nursing home or hospitalization placement and a big assist to their caregivers. They all require twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week care.”
“One of our participants, who’s known as Mother, she’s right here,” points Paul Metoyer, the director of Adult Services at Kingsley House. “She’s 107 years old.”
“I can’t hear you but you can hear me,” declares Mother.
Paul Metoyer tells me that Mother, who’s real name is Maggie Simmons, lives with her grandsons, who are in their 70’s. They bring her to Adult Day Health Care every morning. Family involvement is a big part of Kingsley House, and it has been, ever since it was started as a Settlement House — the first one in the South — back in 1896 when it served mostly German and Irish immigrants in the Irish Channel.
“We’ve been doing childcare and early childhood development at Kingsley House for over one hundred and fifteen years now,” says Liederman. “It was actually the first program that we started.”
But there are many firsts. “Pretty much everything related to social and human service that we have and we take for granted here in Louisiana now had its origins here at Kingsley House,” explains Liederman. “So first structured recreational programs for children and youth in the city of New Orleans happened here at Kingsley House. That morphed into the New Orleans Recreation Department. First playground in New Orleans was started by Kingsley House. We started the first School of Applied and Behavioral Sciences in partnership with Tulane University in 1910. This is where social work as a profession in the deep south started. And today, we’ve evolved into a multi service, nationally accredited social and human services organization.”
An organization which serves about seven thousand people a year. Over three hundred and fifty of them are young children in Head Start and Early Head Start Program. They can be as young as six weeks old, but Jamari is four.
“I know how to teach my friends how to read a book,” declares Jamari. “I know how to do Green Eggs and Ham. That’s Sam I am.”
“Anything else you want to tell me?” I ask.
“You know how to spell orange?” Jamari asks. I nod. “Spell it!”
“You spell it,” I say.
“O-r-a-n-g-e. Purple! P-u-r-p-l-e. Green! G-r-e-e-n. Pink! P-i-n-k.”
Clearly, Jamari is academically on top of her game, but Kingsley House attends to all of a child’s developmental needs — social, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional — and they do it while fully engaging with families.
Learn more about Kingsley House here.
Written by Eve Abrams for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation.