Brown Program welcome back banner
(Photo courtesy Brown Program)

Artwork and smiles greet older adult participants.

When a small group of older adults walked through the doors of the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish Community Adult Day Program in early June, their first time back in 15 months, they were greeted by welcome-back banners, bouquets of paper flowers, hand-decorated cards, posters and, of course, plenty of big smiles. 

The artwork was created by students at West Maple Elementary School in Bloomfield Township, which has had a long-term relationship with the Brown Program, an adult day program that improves the lives of people living with dementia and their care partners, run jointly by JVS Human Services and Jewish Senior Life. 

Their relationship started with a pen pal program between fifth-grade students and the Brown Program participants, culminating in an end-of-school in-person visit to the center in pre-pandemic years. Fortunately, through continued Character Education work at West Maple, which included community outreach, children throughout the school, from kindergarten up, became involved in creating artwork for the Brown Program. 

“We try to meet several times a year to work on our school culture and integrate character into our daily practices, including a way to foster a sense of family amongst all of our students,” said Jason Pesamoska, principal of West Maple Elementary, a Birmingham Public School near Inkster and Maple roads. “Working with the Brown Program has been a wonderful opportunity for our students this spring.”

As for the staff at the Brown Program, the first day back June 3 was exhilarating, emotional and long-awaited. “We could feel it in the air, the excitement was palpable,” said Brown Program Director Debi Banooni. “When the program first closed, we had thought it would be for a few months, but then it kept extending. Back in January, we were planning to reopen, but then COVID-19 infection rates went up and it was not safe to do so. Being all together again, finally, was so wonderful. Everyone was smiling so much.”

Pictures and cards welcomed back Brown Program participants.
Pictures and cards welcomed back Brown Program participants. Brown Program

The Brown Program is currently celebrating two recent achievements: Adult Day Services Center of Distinction Award from National Adult Day Services Association (NADSA) and a grant from the Wilson Legacy Foundation to support programming and resources to facilitate positive, meaningful interaction between care partners and their loved ones living with dementia.

Banooni said that many older adults, especially the vulnerable population she works with, had struggled with isolation and inactivity over the past year. However, the Brown Program maintained contact with participants with innovative and creative programming done in a virtual setting. There were twice-weekly Zoom sessions for participants, plus programs for care partners who were struggling to take care of their loved ones, often with little respite.

Pictures and cards welcomed back Brown Program participants.
Pictures and cards welcomed back Brown Program participants. Brown Program

However, nothing beats interacting with people in the same room, enjoying activities such as games, music and physical exercise all together, and building friendships. “Now we can share the excitement and energy of our participants, and share ours with them,” she said. 

Phase 1 Reopening

For now, for purposes of COVID-19 safety, the reopening is in Phase 1. The West Bloomfield location is open to serve participants from both sites, while the Southfield location remains closed until a critical level of staffing and participants is reached. 

Participants must meet strict criteria: they were evaluated and registered back in January (with most being prior participants before the pandemic), they are fully immunized against COVID-19, they come from a fully immunized household, and they are physically able to wear a mask. As community infection levels drop, more people will be accepted, and restrictions may be removed. Banooni shared that at least one former participant was unable to return because her family knew wearing a mask would be difficult for her although they appreciated the safety measures.

Jackie McKnight (in blue) plants flowers with staff member Shirley Crockett at the reopened Brown Program.
Jackie McKnight (in blue) plants flowers with staff member Shirley Crockett at the reopened Brown Program. Brown Programw

In Phase 1, meals are not being served to participants so attendees either come in the morning or afternoon, with disinfection protocols in place between sessions. “We are looking to continue our phased opening and offer additional programming and lunch once we see how things proceed,” Banooni says. 

Families who are interested in registering their loved ones in the Brown Program should email Dorothy Moon, the program’s social worker, at info@brownadultday.org. For more information, go to the JVS Human Services website. Donations to the Brown Program can be made through www.jslmi.org/seedsofhope.