Raising a child with a compromised immune system can lead to isolation and loneliness, says Shavonn Burgess, a southeast Michigan resident and mother of a daughter she calls her "sickle cell warrior." Safe opportunities for immunocompromised children to play and just be kids can be hard to come by. But Burgess says both her daughters – Kennedy, 6, and Savannah, 9 – are able to have "a carefree blast" at the Children's Healing Center
"Having a place that takes into account our daughter’s weak immune system and our family is a breath of fresh air," Burgess says.
That's why the Burgess family is willing to travel all the way from southeast Michigan to the original CHC location in Grand Rapids
, the first of its kind. However, more southeast Michigan families raising children with immune conditions will be able to have what CHC's tagline calls "good clean fun" with the opening of a second center in Ypsilanti Township, set for early 2024.
"I'm looking forward to this location and hopeful about additional locations throughout the world," Burgess says.
The Grand Rapids-based CHC opened in 2015 after founder Amanda Barbour fought Hodgkin's lymphoma as a young woman. During her treatments, she met many families whose lives were changed because of their children's diagnoses.
She combined that interest with her existing interest in architecture to create the first CHC space, specifically designed to mitigate the spread of illness. A physician must verify there's an appropriate diagnosis and refer the child and their family. Drop-in programs, homework help, game nights, and more are offered free to members.
"We never charge families for our services," says Melissa Block, director of development and growth for the CHC. "No one should have to pay to give their children normal childhood experiences."
The program has since served youth from ages zero to 26 with more than 240 conditions or diagnoses, including children with several types of cancer.
Julie Piazza and Lorrie Beaumont at the future location of the Children's Healing Center in Ypsilanti Township.
Block says that if one person has to be careful about germs, the whole family usually does, and it affects their everyday life.
"And here's a place they can all come to together, or separately," Block says.
The location employs air and water filtration, anti-microbial products, and fully cleanable surfaces. The nonprofit also has a strict cleaning regimen and screens all those who enter for any concerning symptoms.
Those protocols will also be implemented in the new Ypsilanti Township location on South Huron Street, north of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and across from Brinker Way.
The future location of the Children's Healing Center in Ypsilanti Township.
Dr. D'Anna Saul, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, will serve as the medical advisor for the Ypsi Township location. Dr. Saul's background includes both palliative care and working with young children at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
"One of the unique things about CHC is that they recognize the importance of a safe place where kids can have the opportunity to play in a developmentally and age-appropriate way in an environment that is safe and clean," Dr. Saul says.
While CHC's medical protocols were in place well before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Saul says people now have a little more empathy for immunocompromised children.
"Even a lot of families not living with medical complexities got a taste of what these families experience when they were dealing with the uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic," Dr. Saul says. "Many are realizing that, for many families, things like masks and taking temperatures are an everyday experience."
Breaking ground in Ypsi Township
Lorrie Beaumont, the executive director for CHC's Ypsi Township location, says the newest site was chosen because of its "proximity to world-class children's hospitals as well as universities … and a generous philanthropic community who have a heart for our mission."
Dr. Saul says the Ypsi Township location will be able to serve child patients from multiple health systems since it's between Ann Arbor and Detroit. She notes that the nonprofit was "really intentional" about choosing a location that was right off the highway and accessible by bus line.
Blocks says the rough plan is to break ground this spring, perhaps in May, and open in the first quarter of 2024. Beaumont says CHC staff have already been recruiting families for the new location through a series of community pop-up programs. The new facility will have 11,000 square feet of space, divided into zones for a variety of experiences from fitness to art to gardening. It will also include a lounge for parents.
Lorrie Beaumont, the executive director for CHC's Ypsilanti Township location.
The project received support in the form of a $2 million grant from the state of Michigan and a $1.25 million matching gift from The Jones Family Foundation. The CHC is in the middle of a capital campaign to raise the rest of the $6.5 million needed to build the location.
Beaumont says CHC is likely to hire a few locals to staff the location, but the organization is especially interested in connecting with community partners and recruiting volunteers.
"We are excited to bring programs that will foster socialization, friendships, and community to families in southeast Michigan," Beaumont says.
More information about the new CHC location is available here
. Information for families seeking a referral to become members can be found here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHC Grand Rapids photos courtesy of CHC. All other photos by Doug Coombe.