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#OTGYpsi: 'Children's Healing Center' coming to Ypsilanti Township


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Safe recreational facility for immunocompromised kids coming to Ypsi Township

Children's Healing Center

Children's Healing Center Southeast Michigan Campaign

Children's Healing Center: Become a Member


Josh Hakala: You're listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. And today, our focus is on the new center for auto-immune youth, coming soon to Ypsilanti Township. Today, I'm joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the Children's Healing Center, a building specially designed for immune-compromised youth. It offers them a place to socialize with others their age in a germ-free environment. Rylee, thanks so much for joining us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: So, can you tell me a little bit what we might learn about what this Concentrate Media article written by your colleague, Sarah Rigg?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, as you probably can imagine, things like hospitals, emergency rooms, surgery, things like that, they can be pretty daunting, scary, anxiety-inducing, especially for children, but as well as their families who are dealing with sort of the financial end of things. And the Children's Healing Center, which actually opened back in 2015 in Grand Rapids, seeks to sort of bridge a gap between the traditional health care that families are receiving and figuring out how to allow kids to be kids again, even though they might be sick and be receiving this treatment. And they are bringing this mission to Ypsi now, with a center slated to open up in 2024,next year. And the best part is for members, everything that the center offers is free.

Josh Hakala: Wow! And then, what's the importance of the program for Ypsilanti Township and the community in general?

Rylee Barnsdale: I think the biggest thing here is going to be the fact that Ypsi is right there in between Ann Arbor and Detroit. So, it's going to open up this really incredible service to a lot more families that maybe would have to drive, you know, a couple of hours to get to the Grand Rapids location. So, it's going to be a really great opportunity for folks that are looking for that sort of specialized holistic care to have it much closer to home.

Josh Hakala: In the report in Concentrate Media this week, Sarah Rigg talks extensively with Melissa Block, director of development and growth for the Children's Healing Center. And Melissa is joining us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

Melissa Block: Thank you for having me.

Josh Hakala: So, what can you tell us about the details of the center being built here? Like, where will it be? And who will it serve locally?

Melissa Block: Yeah. So, the center is location is going to be on Huron across from Brinker Way. So, right next to the police station, there is a vacant piece of land. And we're really fortunate to have been gifted that property from Connie Kalitta. And we will be situated on the back portion of that parcel. That's a really beautiful piece of property that overlooks, I want to say, the ninth tee of the golf course in Ford Lake, so it'll be a really serene location for our members. And we are just really excited to open our doors and serve families in southeast Michigan. As Rylee noted, we are ideally situated to be easily accessible to both Ann Arbor, Detroit and surrounding communities. So, we are just looking to wrap our arms around these families who are walking a very difficult road and to give them a place where they can really focus on physical, mental wellness, community building, and friendship.

Josh Hakala: And can you help us understand the concept of the Grand Rapids-based Children's Healing Center that opened in 2015? What was the whole concept behind the center?

Melissa Block: So, the center was started by our our founder, Amanda Barber, and at about 22 years old. She had just graduated from U of M Architecture School and moved back home to Grand Rapids and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. And she was treated at the children's hospital. And through that experience, she was meeting many, many families whose lives have been ultimately upended due to an unexpected illness. And the diagnoses really forced these families into isolation, and they were experiencing a lot of loneliness. So, she, at the time, was working on a sports barn for a local Grand Rapids family, and she thought, "Wouldn't it be really cool if I could take this sports barn concept and these families that I'm meeting and create a safe space for them to come together and really kind of regain their social lives back in the children, their childhoods," because so much is taken away from children and the entire family unit. So, that was really the impetus. And, in 2015, we opened our doors to local families, and we host programs that, as I mentioned, focus on community building, friendships and physical and mental wellness. And we have everything from a preschool to teen and tween nights, parent nights. We do special events like daddy-daughter dances, mother-son events, everything that these families are missing out on in their lives due to that diagnosis. We really try to bring to them our safe and clean environment.

Josh Hakala: So, who do you think are the most in need of your center?

Melissa Block: There's a wide variety of diagnoses that qualify for the center. At last check, I think we had 240 different chronic conditions. So, it's really anything from cancer to cardiology to pulmonology to auto-immune deficiencies, anything that causes a child, ages 0 to 26, to be more vulnerable to illness than their peers qualifies for them for the center. And once that child qualifies, the entire family is able to participate in programs. And we're really encouraged that because when one member of the family is affected, everyone is affected, really trying to fill that gap of care that not only encompasses the diagnosed child, but the siblings and parents as well.

Josh Hakala: So, when they show up at the Children's Healing Center, what does a typical day look like for the children?

Melissa Block: We pride ourselves on our protocols and our safe and clean environment. The hallmark of our organization is our clean building. We have taken great pains to ensure that we have as close to a germ-free environment as we can have. And we do that through, as I mentioned, cleaning protocols. We also have screening protocols for when people enter our space to ensure that they are free from illness by taking a status of their current health condition. We also have water filtration and air filtration and cleanable, wipeable surfaces. So, once passing those screenings and coming into our space, the kids are allowed to play freely with other kids. The parents can find friendships and can commune with other parents who understand what they're going through. Such a unique journey as a parent who has had a medically complex child that the lives, and I use this term loosley, butt normal, healthy families don't always understand. So, being able to have those relationships with people who truly get what you're going through and are able to support you as you're going through that is pretty special. And then, the kids and the siblings, too. They're walking very unique roads. So, being able to interact with other kids their own age who understand what they're going through, who don't find it weird, is remarkable.

Josh Hakala: So, what is life like for a child outside of the Children's Healing Center? What do they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis that makes this, you know, such a great place for them to have offered to them?

Melissa Block: Yeah. So, it really ranges based on the child's condition and status. So, the best way to describe it is kind of thinking back into the early pandemic times that we experience a few years ago. So, that fear of illness, the sheltering your family from exposure to others in order to protect that child's fragile health. We have some kids that can't go to school. You know, certainly, parents can't take their kids to the grocery store. There are no playdates. There are no family holidays. They're missing out on a lot of those benchmarks of childhood that defines who we are as we grow up. Because of that, kids tend to be not only socially affected, but also physically. You know, they're missing developmental milestones and things like that. So, we really try to stand in that gap and provide those opportunities that that help those kids belong.

Josh Hakala: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi and our conversation with Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Melissa Block from the Children's Healing Center right here on 89.1 WEMU. And I understand you currently have children from here in Washtenaw County coming to use your services. And what do you think that the parents are willing to drive so far to use these services?

Melissa Block: You know, we do. We've been blessed here in West Michigan to serve families from all over the state of Michigan and really the country and the world. We've had families come to us, the local hospital here, from all over, as you mentioned, including southeast Michigan, I think having something accessible in your own backyard is a blessing. It really is attainable. It removes barriers and creates equity for families who really just want the best for their family and their children. And for the families that travel all the way over here, they're looking for connection. They're looking to really make sure that their children aren't missing out on things in life. And I think that speaks a great deal.

Josh Hakala: So, what are your hopes for when this facility opens up? And do you have a timetable when it will?

Melissa Block: We anticipate breaking ground here in the next couple of months. And our goal is to open our doors in time for spring break camps that we host next year in 2024. So, we are really looking forward to serving the community in southeast Michigan. It's such a fantastic community of individuals with great health institutions that can provide referrals, which we've already have a lot of relationships with some potential families there who are excited for this to open. I think that it's really just going to open up a lot of doors for families that currently feel unattainable to them and really give them an opportunity to find those friendships and benefits of physical and mental well-being and give their kids their childhood back.

Rylee Barnsdale: I did want to ask, Melissa. So, I understand that part of joining the Children's Healing Center is through referral processes. Is that the only way?

Melissa Block: So, on our website, we do have a link to become a member. Certainly, families do not have to wait for a doctor's referral. We just need a doctor's verification that there is a child with a weakened immune system in the family. As we move forward and we get closer to opening, we will be looking for volunteers that want to come and help us run our program, both at the level of actually participating in the programs and helping us relieve them, as well as being program partners. So, we're looking for people who want to come out and help lend their skill sets to our families in leading a program and providing that for them in our space.

Josh Hakala: All right. Melissa Block from the Children's Healing Center and Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale, I want to thank both of you for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Melissa Block: Thank you.

Josh Hakala: I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89.1 WEMU-FM ,Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University. Online at WEMU.org.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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