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Center provides innovative senior, child care

Bethlehem Intergenerational Center works to care for elders and children together, integrating daily schedules and activites.
Elders and children together

Elders and children together /Soulcookiezzz

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Bethlehem Lutheran Church located in Heartside, a neighborhood in downtown Grand Rapids, is part of a new, innovative way to serve seniors and providing childcare. In 2017, this church started a senior support center called Bethlehem Intergenerational Center (BIC), a day center for the elderly and a childcare center for children age 5 and under. Here, young children learn from and connect with the older generation.

“The beauty in the relationships that they form with their seniors, it gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. And with the children, it helps them build empathy. It brings joy all around,” says BIC Director Sue Davidson. Prior to the intergenerational component established in 2017, Bethlehem Lutheran Church had a childcare program called Hill Child Development, an initiative in place for the past 46 years.

The program has about 72 participants, 65 kids occupy the child wing and seven seniors occupy the senior wing. The intergenerational center is an alternative to sending seniors to assisted care facilities. Its senior center gives respite time for families that care for an aging, loved one as well.The child wing was made for parents to have a welcoming place for their kids throughout the day, a place for kids to learn to love learning “without breaking the bank.” The center works to integrate both children and seniors by scheduling combined, daily activities. “Some of the coolest times are when it's completely organic. When they are provided the time and opportunity and decide what they're going to do,” says Davidson.

Speaking to the difference he sees in the seniors when they engage with the children, Executive Director Jay Schrimpf says, “There is a new life and a new flame burning inside of them.”

Intergenerational care centers are a relatively new idea, originating in 1990. The Los Angeles Times reports there are around 500 intergenerational centers throughout the country. Yet not many of them are like Bethlehem's. In many cases, these centers are when two worlds collide. The Bethlehem Interegenerational Center brings the two demographics together in the same program.

“There are different styles of intergenerational centers so there can be intergenerational centers that are co-located. So it's two different organizations using the same space," says Schrimpf.

At Bethlehem each program has its own manager. Anne Kulik is the Senior Wing Program Manager and Lainie Moore is the Early Childhood Program Director.

Schrimpf adds, "We're an integrated Intergenerational center so we run both sides. Which means that one of Sue's jobs is to make sure that Anne and Lainie are in constant communication…we all want to work together to do the best we can, so it’s important that that conversation takes place all the time."

BIC offers a Great Start Readiness Program, which is free preschool to four-year-olds and different scholarship programs to help families that qualify. They have the Swanlund Tuition Assistance Fund that can help cover up to 25% of the cost, assistance specific to childcare. It was named after a very active congregation member, Jim Swanlund, who was a teacher and Grand Rapids-area principal for many years, dedicating himself to kids. BIC also offers tuition assistance for the senior wing. Seniors can also receive financial help from the Area of Agency on Aging program. BIC accepts payments from the Department of Health and Human Services for child care.

“Our mission is to make this amazing program affordable to everybody,” says Davidson.


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