Bridging the Gap

Connecting generations with a novel approach, the Levi family offers joy to both young and old.

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    Elyse Glickman

Orange County may have Disneyland and its iconic Small World attraction, but here in the Valley, some families boast that we’ve got something almost as captivating for the younger set—Discovery School and Child’s World preschools owned and operated by Evan and Mia Levi. 

In 2000, when the couple purchased the Discovery School in Tarzana—Evan now serves as the school’s president and Mia as its vice president—they transformed it into a sprawling, multi-sensory learning lab. It now stands complete with interactive classroom space, eco-system learning areas and even a working farm with livestock and vegetables that some of the older students sell at the school’s own monthly farmer’s markets. Similar life-enriching environments greet students at the Child’s World preschools in Encino and Woodland Hills.

Thanks to the influence and commitment of the couple’s children, Justin (31) and Marissa (26), the business has extended to the elderly. Five years ago, the Levis acquired the 22-year-old Shalev Senior Living Centers, a cluster of five Sherman Oaks homes on quiet residential streets that house the elderly. Justin is now managing director of Shalev Senior Living. He explains that the 1,500 hours of volunteer work he clocked at Encino Hospital during high school ultimately prompted him to convince his parents that expanding into innovative eldercare was a natural extension of their innovative approach to operating preschools.

“I had the fantastic experience of talking to the senior citizen volunteers, listening to stories about the good old days and learning life lessons,” recalls Justin, an activist in the Alzheimer’s Association and member of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s steering committee. “I still remember their names, faces and the stories that went along with them. It was so life-changing that when the opportunity came for our family to purchase a senior care facility, I told my father that we had to take this challenge on.”

Instead of the institutional feel so common to traditional eldercare facilities, Shalev offers a  home-style environment for residents. While that approach may generate less revenue, the Levis say they are happy with the trade-off, because they make clients’ golden years more enjoyable. 

Five years ago, the Levis launched a successful visitation program connecting their preschoolers and senior citizen through get-togethers for holidays and special events throughout the year. “Having the children interact with our seniors gives them such a lift,” Mia observes. “While some may not remember it a week later, what’s most important is that they enjoy it as thoroughly as possible at that moment. The children, meanwhile, learn hands-on about how good generosity feels, even though they don’t get a cookie or a sticker for their acts of kindness. They learn the real ‘prize’ is knowing they made another person happy and they gave of themselves.”

Marissa, who is currently completing her master’s degree in business administration at UCLA, has recently gotten involved with the family business. She’s voluntarily taken on the task of working with the city to get approval for the family’s latest endeavor—a new, three-acre senior residential facility across from the Discovery School in Tarzana. 

Evan describes the proximity of the two facilities as a win-win. “Currently, getting the seniors and the kids together is an event, as planning is involved to transport the kids to the senior center or the seniors to the schools,” details Evan. “Once the new center opens, the intergenerational program will be more of an everyday lifestyle and an integrated community.”  

Meantime, Marissa seems ready, alongside her brother, to take the baton. “Growing up in the Valley infuses you with a sense of family and community, especially with the examples our parents set for us in their life’s work,” says Marissa. She adds, “As a member of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council, I’m inspired by how those who live here care about making the community better: planting trees, feeding the homeless and so on. I take that (mindset) into everything we do with the schools and with Shalev.”