Treehouse branching out with aid of $2M in rescue funds

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  • Rosa Young talks about her experiences at Treehouse in Easthampton since moving to the intergenerational community 15 years ago. Young spoke during an event on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, to announce $2M in state funding for Treehouse Foundation to expand its model in Massachusetts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Judy Cockerton, center, founder and CEO of Treehouse Foundation in Easthampton, and Sen. John Velis, right, listen as longtime Treehouse resident Rosa Young talks about her experiences since moving into the intergenerational community 15 years ago. Young spoke during an event on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, to announce $2M in state funding for the foundation to expand its model in Massachusetts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Treehouse Foundation Chief Operating Officer Beth Spong, right, speaks with Rep. Dan Carey, left, and Sen. John Velis following the announcement of $2 million in state funding for the foundation to expand its model in Massachusetts, Tuesday, in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Judy Cockerton, founder and CEO of Treehouse Foundation in Easthampton, talks about the $2M in state funding the intergenerational community received to expand its model in Massachusetts on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holly Handfield, a longtime resident of Treehouse in Easthampton, talks about her experience at the intergenerational community on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rosa Young, left, a longtime resident of Treehouse in Easthampton, talks with Treehouse Foundation CEO Judy Cockerton during an event Tuesday to announce $2 million in state funding for the intergenerational community to expand its model in Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Judy Cockerton, founder and CEO of Treehouse Foundation in Easthampton, addresses a gathering in the community room on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, for the announcement of $2M in state funding for the intergenerational community to expand its model in Massachusetts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Judy Cockerton, center, founder and CEO of Treehouse Foundation in Easthampton, and Sen. John Velis, right, listen as longtime Treehouse resident Rosa Young talks about her experiences since moving into the intergenerational community 15 years ago. Young spoke during an event on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, to announce 2M in state funding for the foundation to expand its model in Massachusetts.

  • Rep. Dan Carey (D-Easthampton) addresses an event at the Treehouse community in Easthampton on Tuesday, March 1, 2022 to announce $2M in state funding for the Treehouse Foundation to expand its model in Massachusetts. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2022 8:58:24 PM
Modified: 3/1/2022 8:57:57 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A $2 million infusion from the state’s American Rescue Plan Act will help city-based nonprofit Treehouse Foundation replicate its intergenerational community model in the eastern part of the state.

Treehouse Founder and CEO Judy Cockerton offered up gratitude to a handful of state and local officials on Tuesday afternoon, as she stood beside a giant cardboard $2 million check signed by state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, and state Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton. Gov. Charlie Baker signed the $4 billion ARPA funding and surplus tax revenue spending legislation into law in December.

“So we’ve been living here and working here for the past 15 years. Three generations are thriving. They’re rising up … and as young people grow up, they’re giving back,” said Cockerton. “What we’re trying to do here on Treehouse Circle is make sure that every child has the opportunity to live a fulfilling and productive life in family and community.”

Cockerton, Velis and Carey were joined at the announcement by Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, officials from the Treehouse Foundation and residents of the Treehouse community.

With the funding, Treehouse aims to create two additional intergenerational communities in the Boston MetroWest area with partners nonprofits Plummer Youth Promise and 2Life Communities, based in Salem and Boston respectively. The locations of the future sites have not been announced.

Established in Easthampton Meadows in 2006, the intergenerational community is a planned neighborhood where adoptive families and their children, adolescents and elders support each other.

When Cockerton first came before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals proposing plans for Treehouse Foundation, then-board member LaChapelle said she and her fellow members were a little confused about what Cockerton sought to accomplish.

Now more than 15 years later, Treehouse, composed of 48 cottages for seniors and 12 homes designed to support families who are fostering and adopting children from the public care system in Easthampton, serves as a model for an intergenerational community.

“We kind of thought she was crazy and there was pushback,” said LaChapelle. “I think of that so long ago and I think about where we are now in Easthampton and the evolution. The other piece I would say is I’ve gotten to know some of the Treehouse kids, who went to Easthampton public schools and are shining examples of the positive effect of the community.”

LaChapelle said that while she wouldn’t divulge names, some of the former Treehouse youth have gone on to make a larger impact in western Massachusetts, including one who owns one of the most celebrated jazz clubs in downtown Springfield, Dewey’s Jazz Lounge, and another who received a full scholarship to architecture school.

Lasting impact

Treehouse Easthampton illustrates the positive impact of permanency, community connections and support as young people from Treehouse are on an entirely different trajectory than their peers in more traditional settings, according to Cockerton.

“The national high school graduation average for youth in foster care is 58%, while the average for students who have grown up in Treehouse Easthampton is 95%,” she said. “The national average for failed placements/children returned to the Department of Children and Families is 16%, while ours at Treehouse is zero. The intergenerational community model works. And these kids are never at risk of aging out.”

In addition to the benefits to the youth and families, Cockerton says the Treehouse model helps provide meaning to the seniors, who are investing in the futures and dreams of the community’s youth. One example of that investment is Rosa Young, who has lived in the community since its beginning. She heard about Treehouse from National Public Radio while driving in Michigan, and packed up her car with her four-legged companion, Chloe, and headed for Easthampton.

“I heard it on the radio and traveling in my RV for about four years and I was ready to settle down, but I wanted to be in a community, and useful and meaningful in terms of where I landed,” she said. “It was a challenge to be so diverse and come together, but it meant a lot.

“The staff was very sensitive to that diversity and very sensitive about including everybody,” she continued. “I personally have felt very valued here and had opportunities to really contribute.”

Young was connected with a family that had five children soon after she arrived. Each week, she’d give the parents a night off and spend time with the children. Looking back, she recalled watching movies and taking road trips as part of her new “special” family.

Young, a cancer survivor, also detailed how the families in her community supported her throughout her chemotherapy treatments, making sure to make time for Scrabble every week and coming home to a homemade pie baking in her oven.

“I grew to love the kids. They were very kind to me and I was known as ‘Grandma’ and a few other things,” she said with a chuckle. “Friendship is part of what happens with us here. ... I really love them and am thankful for the community that we have here. And there is much to celebrate.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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