Health Care and Nonprofits

Intergenerational care center launches in Heartside

Bethlehem Lutheran Church gives seniors opportunities to socialize with children at Hill Child Development Center.

May 12, 2017
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Once it opens, Bethlehem Intergenerational Care Center will encourage interaction between children and older adults. Courtesy Bethlehem Lutheran Church

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Studies have shown that as individuals age, they often become more isolated, which can lead to increasingly poor health. To combat this, a Grand Rapids church is opening a new day center to help frail adults socialize more and, hopefully, remain healthier longer.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 250 Commerce Ave. SW, which operates the Hill Child Development Center in the Heartside district, is opening the Bethlehem Intergenerational Center for “frail elderly adults.”

The center will operate Monday through Friday at the same times as the Hill Child Development Center and will offer opportunities for the adults and children to participate in activities together.

The children and seniors also will spend time in separate wings during the day.

To accommodate its new senior day care center, Bethlehem spent $250,000 on renovations to its building, including necessary ADA upgrades.

It also updated the building's security to include key-carded doors to keep seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s safe.

Pastor Jay Schrimpf, of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, said the idea for the intergenerational center came about after church leaders were challenged to come up with the church’s next venture for the community.

“We have an ethos that says if we are not moving forward, we are moving backward; there is no standing still,” Schrimpf said.

He and Sue Davidson, director of Hill Child Development Center, spent two years visiting intergenerational centers across the country and developing their plan for the center.

“We learned a lot at every place we visited,” Davidson said.

She said the most important thing they realized was the cross-programming needed to be intentional. They didn’t want to create an overly structured or rigid schedule for the children or the adults that forced interaction or overly prescribed it.

This leaves seniors more opportunities to make decisions about when and how they want to interact with the children throughout the day.

“There will be planned activities, but there is also time for organic friendships to form,” Davidson said.

Schrimpf described the type of senior he expects to take advantage of the center.

“We intend to care for frail elderly adults,” he said. “That would be individuals 65 or older who need the assistance of someone else in their daily living to get through the day — not necessarily 24-hour assistance, but some assistance.

“It’s not the same as a senior center like Senior Neighbors, where people just go for socialization. This is more for folks with a higher level of need.”

Schrimpf said the expectation is seniors will come to the center a few times per week, perhaps when a spouse or caretaker needs to run errands or have some personal time.

The program is a fee-for-service operation with a full day rate of $78 and a half-day rate of $49.

Seniors staying for a full day will have breakfast and lunch provided at the center, as well as snacks.

The center is enrolling seniors now, and Schrimpf said it will start with a maximum of 12 seniors at a time initially and build to 15-18 spots by the end of its first year. In Year 2, he said the program will max out at 20 slots.

Schrimpf said those numbers are reflective of how many seniors will be at the center at one time, and since it’s unlikely seniors will be there five days per week, the overall total number of enrollees will be approximately 35 individuals.

The staff from the day care center is being cross-trained to serve the senior population, and the center has added staff with specific training in caring for seniors.

“The children and the seniors will never be alone together without a care giver present,” Schrimpf noted.

Schrimpf said the expectation for the center is it will improve the quality of life for the seniors.

“Intergenerational programming is fairly new, but the initial results, for many adults, you have increased activity and increased input/output as far as the socialization and keeping their minds going,” he said.

He also said there has been a decreased need for medications and a decrease in hospitalization.

“Oftentimes, medical conditions slow them down and force them into a situation where they aren’t very mobile and then they can’t get out much and a loss of meaning can happen,” he said. “We hope this program can bring some of that meaning back.”

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