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Opening the Door to Shared Space

June 27, 2023

Walking through LEV Children’s Museum’s base of operations, it’s easy to confuse the watercolor coffee filter butterfly art, half-finished puzzles, games, and holiday crafts for those of LEV’s kiddos. That’s because there is much overlap between what children enjoy and the activities that engage senior citizens. When we were looking for a home base just over a year ago and hitting road block after road block of lack of space, desire, or necessary features; high cost; challenging geography; and more, the Daniel Cantor Senior Center pulled through seemingly as miraculously as the sea parting for Moses and his people. What followed over this past year has been heartwarmingly spectacular and is just the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

The Daniel Cantor Center of Sunrise, FL rents space at a very low price to LEV for our weekly Sunday School classes for neurodivergent learners, a parking spot for our tiny museum on wheels, a dedicated room for our engaging exhibit pieces donated to us from the illustrious Miami Children’s Museum, and much-coveted storage space for our vast array of supplies. In addition to what they do for us, this center also rents space to a local church for Sunday services and weekly bible study. None of this brings in mass amounts of cash flow for Daniel Cantor, but it does make them feel they are meeting their mission of being a true community center, not only a place for seniors, as is their primary function.

Although we began renting space at the center because of its availability, we have come to find that shared space between neurodiverse and neurotypical children, seniors, and those in between brings great benefit to all! The first cross-benefit we noticed was the safety features that the senior center has in place for their clientele with dementia are the exact safety features we need in place for our elopers, or runners, which a handful of our neurodivergent learners are. Their rooms are secured by magnetic locks and open onto a beautiful fully enclosed garden space. This has been the ideal setting for us to run a safe, nurturing multisensory Sunday program. Because we share space with weekday residents, we sometimes leave holiday cards or notes for the seniors and their staff, looking to foster a connection between the groups. We also tend a bit to the garden. We want an even stronger connection, and we know that it is not only possible but attainable and priceless.

Imagine a sensory room that calms an overwhelmed autistic child and produces feelings of comfort in an elder with dementia. A sensory room allows people to stimulate the five senses in a safe environment. It utilizes special lighting, music, and objects to help participants self-regulate behaviors and improve their visual, auditory, and tactile processing. Picture a weekly Shabbat experience containing hands-on activities with senior and child buddies, strengthening paired bonds. Visualize a multiple-generation component constructed to enhance each person’s Jewish journey as well as the collective communal experience.

The possibilities are endless. Doors open wide figuratively when one opens doors literally. We are so grateful that the Daniel Cantor Senior Center warmly welcomed LEV into their home.

Sarah M DeWoskin is the Director and Founder of  LEV Children's Museum.