A four-day stay in semirural Kane County may not seem like much of a getaway.
But for some elderly Chicagoans, Audrey's House near Batavia is a welcome respite.
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"I wait all year for my invite for me to come," Maria G. Lucio, 71, said Wednesday at an open house for the latest facility run by the Little Brothers -- Friends of the Elderly.
Asked what the best part of the vacation is, she replied, "Everything. Everything. Everything from the first day I leave my house."
Little Brothers bought an eight-bedroom house on Seavey Road west of Batavia in 2013 and started offering stays there in June. It can accommodate 16 people at a time.
It is named after a client "who just loved to go on holiday," said Simone Mitchell-Peterson, chief executive officer of the Chicago chapter of the international Little Brothers -- Friends of the Poor charity. The house was bought with money Audrey left to the organization.
Little Brothers, a nonprofit charitable organization that receives no government funds, Mitchell-Peterson said, has put about $450,000 worth of work so far into renovating and furnishing the 6,300-square-foot building.
Stays include activities such as shopping, a visit to the Aurora casino, taking in a Kane County Cougars baseball game, a dance lesson at a Batavia studio, a visit from a petting zoo and more. Clients can choose to participate in as little or as much as they want.
Some just like to sit on the porch and kibitz, or listen to the birds and enjoy the quiet.
"It's muy tranquilo -- very relaxing," Lucio said.
Little Brothers has other retreats, in Rochelle and in Delavan, Wisconsin. Lucio has taken two trips to those.
"We are really proud to call Batavia home," Mitchell-Peterson said.
Need for connection
The organization hopes to expand the programming it has in Chicago to the Batavia and North Aurora area, she said, because it sees a need. Since its founding, Little Brothers has concentrated on relieving isolation and loneliness among senior citizens. Its programs are free. The Chicago chapter concentrates on serving Chicago residents 70 or older.
There are parties, in-home visits, social clubs, a Brain Fitness Center, help with errands, a social worker, a gift-giving program, deliveries of food to those who are poor, and more.
"We're all about engaging people," Mitchell-Peterson said.
Little Brothers was founded in 1949 in France, by a man who was worried about elderly people left without families or savings, particularly after World War II. The Chicago chapter started in 1959. Seniors do not have to be poor to participate, however. It offers services for English and Spanish speakers.
Who it helps
"This is not your AARP crowd," Mitchell-Peterson said, as the average age of the agency's 1,400 clients is 83. They are the "old old."
Physical frailties and concerns about their safety may prevent them from traveling like they used to do, she said. But they still enjoy a break.
There are four staff members or volunteers around, including nursing students, to take care of the guests.
And for many, sharing a room with another person provides the opportunity for something taken for granted: a person saying "good morning" to them, or chatting about the day at bedtime.
Audrey's House is gorgeous. Each bedroom has a theme, which amuses the guests and makes it easier for them to remember which room is theirs. The seaside room looks out over a retention pond, for instance.
A neighbor who works at a Trader Joe's store arranged for unsold flowers to be donated weekly to the home; she and her sons fashion them in to arrangements. It reflects the founder's philosophy of "food before bread," meaning friendship and love are key to a good life.
"Food will sustain you, but really, love and beauty are things that make a difference," Mitchell-Peterson said.
She said the programs offered by Little Brothers, such as the vacations, extend lives.
"When you have something to look forward to, you stay alive. You do," Mitchell-Peterson said.