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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Howard County Treasure—Winter Growth


One of the things that makes Howard County great is its ability to be fertile ground for the development of model programs. There is no better example of this than the Winter Growth program that has been serving Howard County since 1979. Founded by Marge Burba in Montgomery County when day care for the elderly was just developing as a new service to keep people out of nursing homes. It doesn’t take too long after meeting Marge to recognize that this is no ordinary service provider. Her commitment to the elderly attending her day care program is something that caused her to do amazing things in pulling together resources in non-traditional ways.

Marge recognized that she was losing her day care participants to nursing homes because she didn’t have an assisted housing or respite care component to her program. Even though she had no experience in the assisted housing arena she knew that if you could blend the two models you could truly have an alternative for many elderly persons to live out their last years in a supportive home-like environment. That made sense to everyone but state regulators who were not sure how to license and monitor this new hybrid model. Could she keep the public dollars for each service separate? They didn’t want their dollars being used for some other service. Fortunately she had some strong advocates locally who went to bat for her. She had local legislators, county funders, private funders and even Howard Research and Development behind her. After much work the Winter Growth program in Howard County opened with adult day care, assisted living bedrooms and overnight respite care bedrooms. The model has always maintained the home environment with the temporary guests joining for one night to several weeks depending on their need. What Marge is quick to point out is that the Howard County Center has been blessed with a fantastic staff and especially the work of Barbara Bednarzik who has been with the program since the early beginnings.

A Wellness Day Program is now offered and designed for older adults who are basically cognitively alert, socially appropriate, and able to benefit from a four hour program of targeted physical and brain fitness, a hot meal, therapeutic activities, and transportation. It is appropriate for very early stage Alzheimer's, age related or long term depression and or other mental health challenges, and people who need assistance to participate in the community due to a physical disability. One of her participants said of this program, "When you walk through the door, the healing begins."

What became apparent quickly was that there was a demand for more long term to permanent housing for the day care participants. Again Marge went back to the community and advocated for an assisted housing component to her program that today is the Ruth Keeton House named after one of those early advocates for her program. Completed in 1999, this 11,500 square foot building houses sixteen bedrooms for older and disabled adults who are mentally alert. It also accommodates a wellness-focused day program and psychiatric rehabilitation program. What makes Ruth Keeton House special is how every part of the building is designed to add a quality home-like environment. It includes a courtyard with a koi pond, raised gardening beds, and butterfly and birdhouses that are popular all year round.

Winter Growth is having a fundraiser coming up in August - it's on Crowdrise.com/wintergrowth

If you would be interested in volunteering or know of someone who could use this program they can be reached at 410-964-9616.

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