I received a call several weeks ago, someone asking if I knew that Bethel New Life had laid off the majority of their staff at the assisted living facility. No I didn’t know that I told the caller; but I would look into it. In the past, I had been invited to the facility on a number of occasions. I had also visited on my own at unannounced times. Every time while I was there, I paid attention to the staff in action. Why?
Because my 93-year-old aunt is living in a nursing home and has recovered to the point that assisted living would be more appropriate for her over a nursing home. Even at her age, my aunt is capable of living on her own as long as help is nearby in case of an emergency. The nursing home where my aunt currently resides is little more than a warehouse for the elderly. The residents are gathered together daily to spend hours on-end in the dayroom, with little-to-nothing to do accept listen to the drone of the television set. The residents are not permitted to move about. Rather, they are kept in their wheelchairs.
So when I saw the active and lively seniors at Bethel New Life’s assisted living facility and their interaction with the caring staff, I was extremely impressed. Far too often facilities that have black residents and black staff are held in a negative stereotype. To see such positive interaction between the staff and resident was inspiring. It was also important that I have a personal relationship with the staff. I wanted to know the people who would surround my aunt so that I could trust her with them. Unfortunately, my cousin who has the power of attorney over my aunt lives on the South Side and didn’t want to move my aunt to the West Side. But had she given the OK, and I would have placed my aunt there without hesitation.
A few weeks ago, I ran into another friend who had been terminated from Bethel. I also recently met with a group of the terminated workers. Having known many of them and seen their work, I can attest that they are not “disgruntled” ex-employees. They are folks who worked their butts off for Bethel, only to be rewarded with a letter telling them their positions were being eliminated.
Bethel’s rise to prominence began in 1979. Its emphasis in housing came out of a Lutheran ministry focused on a two square mile area of the West Side that was primarily African American and low income. Over the years, Bethel has grown from an initial staff of two people and a budget just under $10,000 to employing roughly 350 people and with a budget of more than $12 million. In 1989, Bethel took the plunge and purchased the old St. Anne Hospital campus. The organization has successfully turned the one square block area at 4900 W. Division into a thriving area. This was not done single-handedly by one person. Bethel’s success at that location is directly related to the people who used to work there. They were employees who were vested not only in the success of Bethel but lived in this community as well.
How has Bethel New Life come to be known as Bethel New Lie? It is a symbolic response to what Bethel has done to its terminated staff, as well as to the community it purports to service. My dropping the ‘f’ out of their title is exactly what many of the staff members expressed to me how they felt after working for so many years to make Bethel a success. Now, their services were no longer needed.
It is also my reflection on how I perceive Bethel’s opinion regarding the people in the community that they purport to serve. As a nonprofit agency and Christian-based organization, they are willing to take in millions of dollars to train people, yet those same people cannot get an opportunity to work for that very agency. Bethel is showing its hypocrisy. Many of the employees that were let go had worked for Bethel for years. But in a recent change of management, the emphasis has been on removing the majority of people who were brought into Bethel while founder Mary Nelson was in charge.
The excuses Bethel gave are many. Next week, I will discuss them at length.