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Intergenerational preschool set to open in Dilworth

Serenity Kids will be housed at Serenity Assisted Living

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Jaxon Lupkes, 5, is guided through an activity by programming coordinator Sandy Hawk, left, with Diane Krueger on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, at Serenity Assisted Living, Dilworth. The facility plans to open Serenity Kids intergenerational preschool as soon as licensing is completed.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum
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DILWORTH — For co-owner Denise Tollefson, the seed for the idea was planted long ago: as she brought her two children to Serenity Assisted Living, she saw the beautiful connection between kids and the elderly residents.

And just like children, that seed grew and is now blooming into Serenity Kids, an intergenerational preschool that will mingle 20 children ages 3 to 5 with the elderly residents who call Serenity home, known fondly as “grand friends.”

Several critical factors fell into place to make the business possible, including Tollefson’s parents, Tim and Elaine Anderson, moving out of the on-site apartment as they prepare for eventual retirement; their former home is being retrofitted to become a 2,000 square-foot preschool space.

In addition, last year Serenity hired Sandy Hawk as a cook, realizing that her 30-year career in early childhood education meant she had the experience to serve as the intergenerational programming coordinator for the preschool.

Sprinkle in two teachers Tollefson’s own children learned from while attending preschool elsewhere in Fargo, and suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place.

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“It’s always been on the backburner,” Tollefson explained. “Up until now, we would have had to build a separate facility, but I truly believe in manifestation. If you tell people your dream, it just manifests itself.”

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Kasen Lupkes, 2, participates in an activity with Helen Stevenson, left, at Serenity Assisted Living. Serenity Kids is an intergenerational preschool that will open in the facility as soon as licensing is completed. Sandy Hawk, right, is the programming coordinator for Serenity Kids.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

For Hawk, working at Serenity gave her an opportunity to connect with a different age group. “It turns out our grand friends are not that much different than preschool kids; it’s just the body size that is different,” she said.

When Hawk interviewed last year, Tollefson mentioned her dream about the preschool. “Now that I’ve been working with the residents, I’ve fallen in love with them," she said. "Kids have a way of melting people’s hearts, and I can see that our grand friends will want to be a part of that.”

Hawk also appreciates that she’s had the last year to develop relationships with residents so she can create better programming for them and the students. The curriculum will allow the preschoolers to have set time every day to connect with residents at each of Serenity’s three campuses, which are all accessible by a common courtyard.

“You can offer great activities for residents, but having kids in the building engages patients who never want to participate in activities,” Tollefson said. “They have an innate connection to kids, and kids have no inhibitions; their hearts are so pure. It’s magical.”

Serenity Kids will be the only intergenerational preschool available in the area, with Elim Health Care Center having offered one until the Jan. 23, 2020, fire that displaced 111 senior residents and 32 children and forced the facility to temporarily close.

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Preschool teachers Kristen Mueller, left, and Jessica Schneider have been helping put the final touches in the newly created Serenity Kids preschool in Dilworth.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

Tollefson is also excited to be able to help relieve the child care burden in the community at least a little, and she hopes the preschool will be helpful for Serenity team members who may be experiencing child care issues.

“If they don’t have child care, they can’t work,” she said.

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Kristen Mueller and Jessica Schneider will be the new preschool teachers at Serenity Kids, and they are very excited about the opportunity to be involved with an intergenerational setting.

“These past few weeks we’ve been getting to know some residents and staff and can’t wait to meet our group of kiddos,” Schneider said, who is bringing more than 20 years of experience to Serenity Kids. Mueller has 17 years of preschool teaching experience.

The preschool will officially open once licensing is complete. Inquiries about availability can be directed to Tollefson at 218-477-7254. You can also stay up-to-date on the preschool by liking Serenity Kids on Facebook .

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An onsite apartment has been modified to become Serenity Kids preschool in Dilworth.
Michael Vosburg / The Forum

Danielle Teigen has a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication as well as a master's degree in mass communication from North Dakota State University. She has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015, first as a digital content manager before becoming the Life section editor and then deputy editor. She recently moved back to her hometown in South Dakota, where she works remotely for Forum Communications as managing editor of On the Minds of Moms.
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