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Rural Church's Partnership with Elder Care Day Program Meets Community Gap

Wellspring’s grandfriends program included a monthly meal. Marlene (left) and Opal enjoy being together at one of these events.

Reeman Christian Reformed Church in Fremont, Mich., has partnered with Wellspring Adult Day Services since the program opened in April 2016. Wellspring meets a need for adults aging in place—growing older within their own homes and community, outside of care facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic closed many adult day cares in Michigan, but Wellspring kept going, thanks to the rent-free space afforded them by the church. Last school year, with the help of a grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation, they added a “grandfriends” program, which connects older adults with eighth-grade students from Fremont Christian School.

“When those kids would walk through the door, you should have seen the smiles they would get from our guests,” said Tammy Cowley, Wellspring’s business manager. Once a month, Wellspring brought the students to Reeman CRC where they shared a meal and life stories with their grandfriend, and taught each other technology and board games. The grandfriends attended a school open house, sports events, and eighth-grade graduation. Participants filled out surveys on how they perceived the other generation before and after the year together. “And it really did change some of their views! Both ways,” said Cowley. 

Many of Wellspring’s guests don’t have their grandchildren living nearby, and for them Wellspring becomes a family Cowley said. “People need to belong. As you age, your world starts to shrink. You feel isolated. Here, they actually feel a part of something.” 

Before launching, congregation members from Reeman CRC took a year to research and visit other adult day centers, realizing it would be necessary to work with Medicaid or other programs to make the rates affordable. “We live in a rural community,” explained Cowley, “and the poverty level is higher.” 

Initially Wellspring focused on adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but after the pandemic they widened their welcome to all seniors in need of socialization. It’s open three days a week, accommodating 15 guests with a recreational therapist and certified nursing assistant. A registered nurse is on call. Three staff and a group of dedicated volunteers provide meals, transportation, and other needs. 

It’s meant as a step, encouraging those providing care for seniors with adjacent support. More people want to age in place today, Cowley said, “but it does take a toll on the caregiver.” Recently Cowley attended the funeral of a Wellspring guest where the daughter said that Wellspring allowed her to keep her promise to her mother, to not put her in a home. “That’s what we’re here for,” Cowley acknowledged.

Wellspring will continue the grandfriends program with a new group of eighth-grade students in September.


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