Mount Mary University’s newest on-campus residence hall is about as far as you can get from an average dorm room.
Resident activities include bingo, seated exercise classes and story time. Happy hour is at 4 p.m.
The new facility, Trinity Woodsprovides accommodation for Mount Mary students who are single mothers and their children, as well as senior citizens and members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame religious community.
The four floors, $45 million complex in far northwest Milwaukee opened late last year, but this week held an open house.
The complex at 9525 W. Burleigh St. houses 52 assisted living apartments for sisters, 90 independent living apartments for sisters and other seniors, and 24 student apartments for single Mount Mary mothers with children under 12. . The building is also home to a daycare centre.
The idea for this intergenerational community came when Mount Mary University President Christine Pharr and School Sisters of Notre Dame provincial leader Sister Deb Sciano realized that such a facility could meet the needs and improve the lives of the members of their two constituencies.
Last year, the Sisters of the School of Notre-Dame decided to move of the Elm Grove resort they had called home since 1859. Sciano said the sisters could no longer afford the resort and many of its rooms were no longer in use. The sisters, many of whom were in their 80s and 90s, needed a new home.
Meanwhile, Pharr wanted to create an on-campus housing option for the 10% of Mount Mary students she estimates are single mothers. In her previous position at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska, she noticed that the college’s single mother housing was working very well and she wanted to implement something similar in Mount Mary.
“So (Sister Deb and I) realized we could put it all together and create this wonderful intergenerational place where all the students have like 100 grandmothers,” Pharr said.
In December, more than 100 sisters moved into Trinity Woods, Sciano said. Although Sciano doesn’t live in the building, she said she probably will eventually.
According to Dave Fulcher, 80 of the 90 independent seniors’ apartments have been occupied by sisters and seniors. Fulcher is the CEO of Milwaukee Catholic Home, the organization that operates Trinity Woods.
Mount Mary pupils and their children moved into the building in January, and five children – all aged 2 and under – and their mothers now live in Trinity Woods as well.
All four mothers are between the ages of 18 and 40, most are undergraduates — though some are graduate students — and all have jobs in addition to attending college full-time, said Keri Alioto, vice-president. president of student affairs at Mount Mary.
Five other mothers, each with a child, plan to move this fall.
Pharr said that to her knowledge, Trinity Woods is the only facility in the United States that houses nuns, seniors and parent students, but she would like it to be “a model for the rest of the country.”
Affordability for Student Parents
As an on-campus housing option, a student’s financial aid program may contribute to the cost of living at Trinity Woods.
A monthly payment of $1,200 covers the two-bedroom student apartment, utilities – water, heat, electricity and Wi-Fi – parking, laundry and food plans for the student and her children. Students also receive a 5% discount on daycare, which is operated by the Wauwatosa Daycare and Learning Center.
The 6,750 square foot daycare center located on the ground floor of Trinity Woods serves children ages 6 weeks to 11 years old and can accommodate up to 100 children at a time.
Childcare programs and many other facilities available to mothers at Trinity Woods are subsidized by the Madonna Fund, a fund for single students and parents at Mount Mary launched by Pharr last year.
Pharr wanted to raise $1 million for the fund before he retires this month. His goal has been achieved. Currently, $1.2 million has been raised.
“Having a safe and affordable place to live…removes a huge barrier for mothers trying to get to college,” Alioto said. “But there are still many barriers such as child care costs, living costs, medical costs, transportation, just to name a few. ‘leveling the playing field with the Madonna Fund so that those no longer become barriers for these mothers.’
As the number of single mothers attending college continues to grow nationwide, single mothers are less likely than their non-parent peers to graduate. Many drop out due to financial and time constraints. Only 28% of single mothers who entered college between 2003 and 2009 completed their program in six years. According to Alioto, today’s numbers remain similar.
“The value of a college degree to these mothers and how it changes their lives and the lives of their children should not be underestimated,” she said.
She added that if a single mother graduates from post-secondary education, her children are more likely to do so as well.
“At Mount Mary and Trinity Woods, we work to make a difference for mothers who hope to graduate and create a better life for themselves and their children (by providing) all the support they knew they needed and a lot of support they give I don’t even realize it will be at hand,” Alioto said.
At the Trinity Woods open house on Wednesday, she told those in attendance that she wished she could have been there to see her hand out the keys to the building’s new student residents in January. She recalled how a student, Maya, a mother of two, “burst into tears” upon seeing her new home.
“There were a lot of emotions,” Alioto said. “She turned to me and said, ‘Keri, I’ve never lived in a new place and my kids have never had their own room.'”
“Faith, Pleasure and Friendship”
In addition to serving single mothers, Pharr said Trinity Woods benefits other Mount Mary students who can use the facility as a “living lab” to apply their studies in a real-life setting. Education students work as daycare teachers, nursing and occupational therapy students help care for residents, and dietetics students help in the kitchen.
Trinity Woods sisters and seniors can also learn new things at Mount Mary by taking courses at the university.
“I call Trinity Woods by three names: faith, pleasure and friendship,” said resident Geraldine Kiltinen, who moved in five months ago after losing her 63-year-old husband last year.
Kiltinen said she enjoys attending mass, making new friends, participating in art and exercise classes, and playing bingo at Trinity Woods. Recently, she also tried bowling on the Wii.
“It was so much fun. … Lots of belly laughs happened that day,” she recalled. “Psychologists will say belly laughs are good for the soul. Let me tell you, my soul is well taken care of.
Roommates Sister Susan Ann Adrians and Sister Karen Walther are also enjoying life at Trinity Woods.
Walther teaches a watercolor painting class for other residents and the two women enjoy seeing the resident children in the hallways and at mealtimes.
“We were both elementary school teachers in our careers…and it’s just delightful to have (the kids) interact with us,” Adrians said.
The sisters look forward to reading with the children once COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Michele Carlson, administrator of the Trinity Woods campus, said these interactions between old and young benefit all residents of the building.
“Through engaging activities and events that involve our senior residents and sisters, our Wauwatosa Daycare children, and our MMU students and their children…new bonds are made, new adventures are experienced, and spirituality is deepened, while living a committed life,” she said.