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Anya Abramzon (center) celebrates Jewish Family Sevices $150,000 grants

Glacier Giveaway

"We are so excited!" says Jewish Family Services executive director Anya Abramzon.

by Eve Silberman

From the February, 2019 issue

At a "Vital Seniors Community Innovation Competition" in November, Abramzon was twice called to the podium to accept grants on behalf of JFS: a $100,000 "innovation award" and a $50,000 "people's choice" grant. The Area Agency on Aging 1-B won $250,000, and a joint proposal by Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity took the $500,000 grand prize.

Local human services providers had never seen anything like the Hollywoodish "community celebration." The goal of the $2.5 million competition, explains Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation CEO Neel Hajra, was "immediate impact--and also to raise the awareness of the role of seniors in Washtenaw County." The county's sixty-and-over population, he notes, is predicted to double between 2010 and 2040--with about 9,000 living in poverty.

Abramzon says that JFS will use its grants to streamline follow-up with people who seek them out and to improve connections with other agencies. Amanda Sears of the Area Agency on Aging says they'll use theirs to support "unpaid caregivers"--usually family members helping frail relatives continue to live at home. Meals on Wheels and Habitat will use the grand prize to expand a program that helps seniors stay out of institutions.

The high-profile awards stem from the sale of Glacier Hills. Founded in 1973 as the Lutheran Retirement Center, it became nonsectarian less than a decade later. Starting from the high-rise apartment building now called the Manor, it grew to include the Meadow independent living units and short- and long-term care facilities.

Glacier Hills "was in the best financial and operational shape we'd ever been in our history," says former CEO Ray Rabidoux. But after a year-long review of trends in health care costs and reimbursement, "we really felt that the days of Glacier Hills being a small independent organization were probably going to be limited."

Private companies would have paid dearly for Glacier Hills' facilities and clients, but "we really didn't want to align with a for-profit organization," Rabidoux says. And since rehab provided

...continued below...

most of the revenue, "it made a lot of sense to look at a health system as a possibility." In 2016, Glacier Hills joined Trinity Health Senior Communities, part of the multibillion dollar Catholic nonprofit that owns St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

As part of the deal, Trinity pledged $18.25 million to the AAACF's Glacier Hills Legacy Fund. Ten million dollars will go to expand services at Glacier Hills, including St. Joe's primary clinics and an early childhood development center--reflecting research that shows both elders and children benefit from intergenerational activities.

Though the dramatic contest was a one-time event, the fund will continue to give out grants at the rate of $625,000 a year. Besides the six winners, four �runners-up got funding to make brief videos explaining their work.

Hajra praises the "great ideas" the contest generated. He says the People's Choice Competition in particular shone needed attention on area seniors: 8,000 people viewed the group's videos and cast votes for their favorites.

"It all started," he adds, with "a tremendous act of generosity by Glacier Hills."     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2019.]


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