Bishop Hills Has Higher Purpose

July 9, 2007
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ROCKFORD — At Bishop Hills Elder Care Community, the tagline is that “Living at Bishop Hills can make a difference.” As owner and administrator Susan Bodenner explained, residents at Bishop Hills are making a difference to young artists, children, deployed sailors, and even poverty-stricken areas of the Dominican Republic.

For residents of the 47-unit assisted care facility, there isn’t as much discussion of how the facility cares for them as how they care for people outside the facility. The residents’ service efforts keep them engaged with the local and international community.

“I really think that Bishop Hills is in a unique position with the programming that we have,” said Bodenner. “Our enrichment program seems to be what attracts people to our facility.”

This year, that enrichment program led to a partnership between International Aid, Cascade Engineering and The Carter Center to develop a next-generation water filtration system for use in impoverished countries.

The initiative came about from an earlier effort to support a nursing home in the Dominican Republic. When that effort stalled, residents asked Bodenner and her husband, James, who co-own the facility, to find an alternate use for the funds they had raised to buy supplies for the overseas nursing home. While in an impoverished village there, they were introduced to a concrete version of the BioSand Water Filter, a relatively inexpensive technology that creates clean drinking water by simply pouring the available water through multiple layers of sand and filters.

Bishop Hills partnered with a Dominican Republic chapter of Rotary International to place 10 water filters in the village, purchased by the facility’s residents at a total cost of $400. Seeing the immediate success of the project, James Bodenner took the idea to local Rotary International chapters, where he was able to raise an additional $10,000. An additional 3,000 filters were provided to Dominican Republic villages.

In 2005, Bishop Hills reached out to David Manz, the Canadian scientist who invented the filter, with concerns about the weight of the concrete units. As is it turned out, he had designed a lighter weight plastic unit, but had not been able to take it to market.

Manz was introduced to local plastic manufacturer Cascade Engineering, who began collaborating on the new filter. International Aid, a mission-based logistical support organization, will drive distribution of the filters.

The CarterCenter, an initiative of President Jimmy Carter, is using the BioSand Filter in its efforts to eradicate the Guinea Worm parasite. It hopes to have the filters in place across the Dominican Republic by October, when the parasite is most prevalent.

The initiative has attracted a steady stream of delegates to Bishop Hills from International Aid, Rotary International, Cascade Engineering, The Carter Center and others, including the reigning Miss Ghana

“As the project ages, we lose some of the founding members,” said Bodenner. “It’s important to keep them involved. They’re still very much a part of it, even though it’s taken on a life of its own.”

Bishop Hills was able to eventually establish relationships with two Dominican Republic nursing homes, which it continues to support. Residents also have supported 80 different U.S. Navy vessels since 2001, providing 17,000 treat bags, thousands of home-baked cookies, and 100 baby blankets hand-knitted for expectant fathers on ship.

The involvement has provided an increased level of engagement for residents with the news. For instance, Bodenner recalled, when the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln was deployed in support of the 2005 South Pacific tsunami, members spotted the ship they had supported in the news.

“If not for their involvement, that wouldn’t have meant anything to them,” said Bodenner. “Now, it was something important.”     

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