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Birchwood at A Day Away caregivers for people with Alzheimer's opens in new, larger space

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To help

Birchwood at A Day Away accepts private pay, Medicaid Waiver, CHOICE and VA benefits. To learn more or schedule a visit, call 432-0011. To help the nonprofit raise the last $300,000 of its $2 million capital campaign, donations can be mailed to 8151 Glencarin Blvd., Fort Wayne, 46804.

Monday, March 4, 2013 - 7:13 am

Beauty, color and nature are seen in every room of Fort Wayne's new freestanding adult daycare for people with Alzheimer's disease, thanks to the decorating expertise of Vera Bradley co-founder Barb Baekgaard and the vision of another Vera Bradley executive, Jill Nichols and her husband, John.

But Nichols is quick to point out that “the passion and heart” of A Day Away co-founders Stephanie Stilabower and Becky Armstead were the driving force behind the center's new home and location – and now a new name.

Birchwood at A Day Away opened today for business at 8151 Glencarin Blvd. The organization was founded 11 years ago. Its first rental home was on the former YWCA campus on Wells Street, then in the Ash Centre on Freeman Street.

“This has been a dream of ours for a long time, to have our own place, a place that's like home,” said Stilabower, executive director of the nonprofit Birchwood. With 10,000 square feet of space, up to 50 clients can be accommodated. Currently the center averages about 22 clients a day and is open 5:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Amenities available for the first time: a beauty shop; a library with a gas fireplace; a four seasons room with heated wood floors; a large nurses station; private offices for management; a coffee-snack bar for family members; a large storage room; full commercial kitchen; laundry facilities; covered portico; fenced courtyard; a private dining-meeting room; and a respite care wing where, starting in May, clients can stay for a night to give their caregivers a break.

During a walk-through of Birchwood several days before its opening, Stilabower and Armstead stood in awe at the spacious bathrooms, two with walk-in showers.

“We have nine bathrooms – nine of them!” Stilabower said, peering into each one with amazement. They had just three toilets in the former location. The wallcoverings in the bathrooms and throughout the facility were handpicked by Baekgaard, who also chose and provided most of the furnishings.

Furnishings in the private dining room have a special story. Baekgaard picked them out at the Atlanta showroom of Vera Bradley vendor Englishman's, based in London, Nichols said, recalling, “It was a rather large order.” When Englishman's found out where the furniture was going, the owner told Baekgaard, “'This will be our gift.' It was mind-boggling,” Nichols said.

Clients at Birchwood can participate in a variety of activities such as singing, exercise, crafts, story-telling and eating family style, made-from-scratch meals. The large activity-dining room will accommodate new activities and programming, Armistead said. One concept they are exploring is a “dementia café,” in which affected individuals and their family and friends can come for monthly dances, movies or other entertainment in an accepting environment.

In communities across the nation, families are scrambling to find affordable, quality care for loved ones with dementia. Currently one in eight Americans over 65 has Alzheimer's – and the incidence is rising as baby boomers age. Birchwood is filling a significant need, Nichols said.

“Now we have this beautiful new facility and the opportunity to expand and reach so many other families in need,” said Nichols, who serves on Birchwood's board of directors and is vice president for philanthropy and community relations for Vera Bradley. It was she who first introduced Baekgaard to A Day Away, where Nichols took her mother for a time. On Baekgaard's first visit, she saw something special in the staff and the programming but, like Nichols, she also saw the need for better facilities.

Their brainstorming with Stilabower and Armstead led to the new, permanent home for A Day Way. Nichols' husband, John, volunteered to oversee construction of the $2 million project.

Besides the financial and in-kind support of Baekgard, the Nichols and the Very Bradley Foundation, support has come from McMillen, the English Bonter Mitchell and the Wilson foundations, Fort Wayne Neurological Center and other business and individuals.

Nichols' mother, Pat Brueggeman, died in July, but Nichols says, “She would be so honored to see this today. This is such a spectacular addition to our community.”