Child playing at Baxter's playground.

Baxter Community Center Celebrates 50 Years of Serving Grand Rapids

If the Baxter Neighborhood on Grand Rapids’ southeast side had a live, beating heart, it would surely be located squarely inside Baxter Community Center.

Established in 1969, programming at the center has grown to meet the needs of the community. Executive director Melanie Beelen, who is set to retire in 2020 after more than 20 years at Baxter’s helm, explains a heart for the center’s neighbors fuels the work that happens at Baxter – whether they need food and clothes, a strong educational foundation or quality health care.

Baxter is hosting its 16th annual Opening Doors Celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. Tickets are $75 per person and can be purchased here. This year’s 50th anniversary theme is “Golden Thread”, which represents the thread of courage, hope and expectation that has been woven into Baxter’s everyday work over five decades.

Cle Jackson at this year's Let's Talk Health Week

Cle Jackson is pictured with WGVU’s Shelley Irwin and Jennifer Moss, as well as winners of the 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Let’s Talk Health Week #MIKidsCan Cook competition, in the gymnasium at Baxter Community Center. Along with offering the services listed below, Baxter is host to a variety of community events throughout the year.

Cle Jackson, senior community liaison, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, will be honored with the St. Francis Award, presented annually to two individuals who have gone above and beyond to champion racial equity and social justice in Grand Rapids. Also being honored with the award is Jim Haveman, former director of the Michigan Department of Community Health and a current board member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

Blue Cross is a sponsor of Opening Doors and also recently presented Baxter’s Wholistic Health Clinic with $25,000 in grant funding to help underserved and uninsured individuals gain access to health care services.

There is a lot of need in the neighborhood Baxter serves and the consistent presence of the center means a lot to nearby residents. Baxter has four key pillars that guide the services they provide:

  • Child Development Center:Baxter is nationally accredited, a distinction held by only five percent of child care centers in Kent County. The center provides early childhood education from infancy through preschool, ensuring children are ready for kindergarten.
  • Wholistic Health Clinic: On-site primary health care, dental, and vision is available for children and adults. In 2019, more than 1,400 neighbors received services.
  • Marketplace: Baxter’s marketplace provides a food and clothing pantry, senior technology and fitness classes, free tax preparation, and a gardening and greenhouse program that includes canning and cooking classes. More than 400 neighborhood families a month access food and clothing at the marketplace.
  • Mizizi Maji Youth Mentoring: Mizizi Maji means root and water in Swahili. Students ages eight through 18 are matched with adult mentors to help with schoolwork and to develop life skills. Young people ages 8-18 have a safe place to discover a love for learning with a focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) education.

Learn more about Baxter at their website including special 50th anniversary events and fundraising opportunities.

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Photo credit: Steven Depolo

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