Gigi Debbie and Papa Mark Landau with grandchildren Nolan and Emma
Gigi Debbie and Papa Mark Landau with grandchildren Nolan and Emma. (Debbie Landau)

To facilitate the JGrand program, the JCC hired grandparents who wanted to build relationships with other families in the community.

Grandparents around Metro Detroit are getting ready to have some fun. JGrand, a new program of the Jewish Community Center’s JFamily targeted at grandparents and their grandkids, held its first event, a grandparent-only “pep rally,” on Feb. 20. The brunch, which took place in the JCC’s lobby, drew more than 30 people and was a chance for grandparents to connect, reconnect and share grandparenting ideas and tips. 

Renee Unger, a grandmother of nine who lives in Commerce Township, says she was surprised by how many people she knew at the Sunday morning event. She adds that she enjoyed swapping ideas with other grandparents and talking about programs they’d like to see from JGrand. 

“I hope it expands,” says Unger, whose children previously took part in JFamily programming. “I think any time you can get the Jewish community together like this, it’s a great idea.”

Lori Fidler
Lori Fidler

While some people’s grandkids live locally, others have to figure out where to find highchairs, baby seats, other gear and activity ideas when their grandkids come to visit. Sharing resources and brainstorming outings is helpful to everyone, Unger says, adding that people could even meet up at kid-friendly destinations. “You have to have a form of community to be able to do all that.”  

A Zoom baking event for grandparents and grandkids took place Feb. 27, where the pairs made rugelach together online. In addition to a growing roster of grandparent/grandkid events, JGrand is also gearing up to offer educational events for grandparents on everything from communication strategies and becoming first-time grandparents, to nurturing and honoring oneself as a modern grandparent and more. 

“We are planning some things and trying to map out the future,” says Lori Fidler, coordinator of the JGrand program and grandmother of four. “We are bringing in some experts in all different fields, and are open to hearing additional topics and events. We want input from grandparents in the community.” 

Judy Loebl
Judy Loebl

The program comes out of an idea Judy Loebl, the JCC’s chief program officer, brought to Detroit after hearing of a similar program in Denver, where her daughter lived when Loebl’s first granddaughter was born. 

“I see the program as a way for grandparents and grandchildren to connect in person and online,” Loebl says. It also promotes shalom bayit, peace in the home, by helping grandparents understand their children’s perspectives and recent shifts in child-rearing. 

That’s especially relevant knowledge in today’s family landscape as, nationally, about a third of grandparents provide daytime childcare, overnight childcare or transportation for their grandkids, according to a 2019 national study of Jewish grandparents. The same study found, despite largely positive feelings about grandparenting, “nearly a third report that their ideas about child-rearing conflict with those of their adult children, and one-in-10 find grandparenting to be a generally stressful experience.”

Ken Korotkin and grandson Davis
Ken Korotkin and grandson Davis Emily Korotkin
Grandparents’ Needs

In preparation for offering regular grandparent programming, the JCC ran a number of focus groups, where they discovered grandparents are increasingly interested in resources that help them explore and navigate their roles as grandparents, says Mikki Frank, JFamily senior director. A JCC survey of interest in such a program drew 75 responses in just 24 hours and led to connections with more than 150 area grandparents for coffee, phone calls, grandkid play dates and introductory “Grand Bag” deliveries. 

Mikki Frank
Mikki Frank

“The style of grandparenting has radically changed over the past 20 years,” Frank explains. “Grandparents have become significantly more involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Many grandparents are dealing with remote grandparenting and many grandparents are providing childcare in various ways. Grandparents are younger, they’re active, they want to be active — they want to be engaged with their grandchildren.” 

To facilitate the JGrand program, the JCC hired grandparents who wanted to build relationships with other families in the community. They also started a private Facebook group, “Jewish Grandparents by JFamily Detroit” and started spreading the word. JGrand held a soft launch in November with a grandparent/grandkid magic show at the JCC, then brought on Fidler, a seasoned early childhood/community development executive. 

Eitan Willner, 2, with his savta (grandmother) Char Gordon at a JFamily event last fall.
Eitan Willner, 2, with his savta (grandmother) Char Gordon at a JFamily event last fall. JCC
A Grandparent Cohort

Grandparents straddle the line as they seek to both support their children and enrich their grandchildren, bringing their own ideas while respecting the way their grandchildren are being raised, Fidler explains. And this new program will provide them with information, activities and a cohort.

“If you need an idea because you’re stuck inside, someone else might have done something that was fun,” she explains. “Or get together — same-age grandchildren can start building relationships, and the grandparents can make relationships with other grandparents.” 

Susie Pappas
Susie Pappas

Susie and Norm Pappas of Bloomfield Hills have helped the program get off the ground by providing financial support. JGrand is also supported by the foundations that support PJ Library Detroit: the H.W. Kaufman Family Support Foundation, the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. 

“I feel very passionate about the program,” says Susie Pappas, a grandmother of six who has been in conversations about JGrand since early on. “Grandparents are always looking for activities they can do with their grandkids,” she says. “And so, if there’s something they can bring their grandkids to, they’re going to be happy to participate.”

Plans have been fluctuating with COVID-19 guidance, as many indoor activities have been put on hold. 

“We had great plans to do a lot of programs, but we can’t really do them because people don’t want to be inside,” Pappas explains. “So, hopefully, that will change as the weather gets nicer and we can do more things outside. Then we will be able to have more grandparenting programs with our grandkids.” 

For Debbie Landau, a West Bloomfield grandmother of two, the chance to meet a diversity of grandparents is part of the draw. “You’re going to get grandparents from all over, you’re going to get grandparents from all kinds of denominations of Judaism to participate,” she says. “That’s a nice thing.”

She’s eager to find out what activities JGrand might offer her, her husband, Mark, and their 2-year-old granddaughter Emma and 10-month-old grandson Nolan. While she’s been to kid-focused classes at area synagogues as well as area farms, zoos and gyms, she says she’s looking forward to being at a JCC-sponsored program that isn’t just for parents and their children. 

“I think this is pretty unique in that this is a Jewish grandparenting group — I think that’s fabulous,” she says. 

Renee Unger with five of her nine grandchildren
Renee Unger with five of her nine grandchildren Renee Unger
Time Together 

During years of library runs, zoo trips, park adventures and children’s classes, grandparent Patti Phillips says she’s often been the only grandparent in the room. The West Bloomfield grandmother of Liam, 8, and Ellery, 2, says she’s excited to have more options when it comes to places to take the kids. 

“I’m looking forward to having things I can take them both to with other grandparents,” she says.   With this new program, she can go with her friends and connect this new generation.

Patti Phillips
Patti Phillips

Spending the time together is more than meaningful, notes Ken Korotkin, “Papa Ken” to six grandkids ages 2-14. “It gives you a chance to really have an impact on the children’s lives,” he says. “And you feel special, too.” 

Korotkin, who raised three daughters as a single dad, notes that, as a grandparent, he feels teaching his grandkids his ethics, morals and values is key. The Bloomfield Hills resident is enthusiastic about Jewish programming he can attend with his grandkids and wants to see JGrand evolve.  

He’s made the rounds of area classes for Jewish children and says he’s a big proponent of bubbie/zaydie camp and other opportunities that bring him and his grandchildren together in a Jewish context. 

“I’m proud to be Jewish,” he says. “And I think it’s important for me to teach that to my grandchildren.” 

Emily Korotkin of Bloomfield Hills first got involved with the JCC’s JBaby when she was pregnant with her son, Davis, now 3. She’s glad her dad would want to take Davis and little sister Cash, 2, to the programs. 

“My grandparents were integral parts of my life, and so was my Jewish upbringing, so, to me, the two go hand in hand,” she says. “I just like being involved in the community, supporting the programs that help with the community’s infrastructure and that also help expose our kids to aspects of Jewish life.” 

Family time is important to her and her wife, Stacy, she explains. “I think anything you can do with your family where you’re learning, growing and getting special time together is important to us,” she says. “The quality time is just something that’s irreplaceable.” 

Near and Far

Franci Silver, who oversees the program on behalf of the JCC board, believes this is the first program of its kind to offer events for grandparents with kids both in and out of town. 

Silver, with a 2-year-old granddaughter in Tampa, looks forward to having a program that allows grandparents to stay connected with their grandkids, no matter where they live.

She says she hopes grandparents embrace this innovative opportunity to connect with their grandkids. For younger children, for example, having an activity to do together could also help them stay online longer. 

“It keeps them interested, and it keeps them active with their grandparents,” Silver says. 

She adds that the JCC is a natural place for such a program to be housed. 

“I think the Jewish community is so tight in Michigan; it’s just warm, friendly and community-based,” she says. “It’s just another thing to add to that list of things the community does for each other and with each other.” 

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