by Cori Hilsgen
As the “Baby Boom” generation continues to age, “boomers” are going to require more help and assistance in their homes and other places of residence. Local Faith in Action participants are often able to maintain their independence and remain in their homes longer because of new services offered.
The theme of all FIA programs is “neighbors helping neighbors.” Minnesota’s FIA network offers support for developing successful, sustainable caregiving programs that can serve local areas.
Overall, four programs are offered under FIA. These programs include: live-well-at-home caregiver support/eldercare support services; family support services; volunteer services; and furniture and household distribution program. (A second-hand shop is located at 717 Main St., Elk River).
Local volunteers from churches, other houses of worship and local areas provide non-medical assistance to people in need.
Some of the assistance they provide includes picking up groceries or running errands, providing a ride to the doctor, friendly visiting, simple home repairs or modifications, housekeeping or helping pay bills, relieving a caregiver and spending time with an aging senior.
St. Joseph is part of the Rural Stearns FIA program. Director Lindsey Sand said the program served 180 people this year, 35 of those in St. Joseph. Services included transportation, homemaking, chore services, friendly visiting, respite care for caregivers, support planning, caregiver consulting, support groups and caregiver education.
“Each year we serve more and more people,” Sand said.
The program currently has 90 volunteers working throughout the rural service area.
“We are continuously recruiting to meet the growing needs of those in our area,” Sand said. “We are always open to new volunteers and always in need.”
The most frequently used services include support planning, caregiver consultation and transportation.
Sand’s position as director involves a lot of fund development and area connection work throughout the county.
“We are continually searching for the financial means to continue our program and connecting with potential donors, participants and volunteers for our program,” Sand said. “I also spend a lot of time connecting with other community-based programs and healthcare organizations to facilitate working relationships between providers and cross-referral for area seniors and people facing challenging life situations.”
RSFIA receives funding through several providers, including Older American Act funding, New Freedom funding, donations from individuals and businesses in this area and from other various foundations.
Sand said they have developed a client cost-share program in which they ask participants who are able and willing to help contribute toward the cost of the service(s) they are receiving. Nobody is denied service based on inability or unwillingness to pay.
Volunteers are often referred through word-of-mouth or through connecting with RSFIA through advertisements in areas of services. Area churches, the United Way and Volunteer Match also often connect RSFIA with volunteers.
“RSFIA is a neighbor-helping-neighbor program that was developed to fill the unmet needs of our area seniors and people facing challenging life situations in our area,” Sand said. “It’s amazing to see the commitment of our volunteers and staff. The care and services provided help so many individuals remain in their homes and prevent placement in long-term care facilities, and also prevent unnecessary hospitalizations. This past year 85 percent of program participants stated the services they received through RSFIA allowed them to stay in their homes.”
A recent St. Joseph participant who wished to remain anonymous has been using the program since May 2009. This person said he is happy to use the program and doesn’t know what he would do without it because the volunteers take him to all appointments.
St. Joseph volunteer Kay Lemke has been volunteering with the RSFIA program since 2010.
“I volunteer because there is a need for these services and it’s nice to feel you are helping someone,” Lemke said.
She said people who are considering volunteering should do it.
“Go for it,” Lemke said. “Just give it a try because you don’t know if it’s a good fit unless you do.”
St. Joseph volunteer Noreen Loso started volunteering because of her father. He gave up his driver’s license a couple of years ago and struggles with getting transportation to and from doctor’s appointments, shopping, banking, attending church and other places. He is able to schedule transportation service to get him to locations, but this doesn’t work well because he has limited mobility or medical issues.
Loso’s father has to carry his own oxygen tank, walker and other items to locations.
“My dad lives on the East Coast, so I am not available to help him,” Loso said. “So, I am kind of paying it forward by helping others who live in my area that are facing the same challenges. In addition, my company, US Bank, is committed to making the communities we serve a better place and they encourage employees to become actively involved by providing paid time-off for employees interested in volunteering. ”
Loso said she appreciates she is able to help the community she lives in.
“I would say this is a great organization to volunteer with,” Loso said. “It’s extremely flexible for the number of hours/days available to volunteer and it directly helps people in my community.”
Sartell is serviced by the Great River Area Faith in Action program. Executive director Denice Freih said they are a stand-alone non-profit. This differs from the RSFIA program which is under the Assumption Home system in Cold Spring.
The GRAFIA services the St. Cloud metro area which includes Sartell.
Freih said about 2,000 people presently use the service. More than 1,000 volunteers provide more than 20,000 hours of volunteer service to participants in the program.
The service most used in Sartell is transportation.
Besides volunteer services GRAFIA also offers professional services such as Elder Care and Caregiver Support. Two professional caseworkers, Julie Pfannenstein and Maureen Graham, do assessments and develop plans to help residents stay in their homes. Both are nurses.
Freih said many times caregivers die before the person they are caring for does. More than half will die first. She added the National Caregiver Alliance statistics show one out of four households are involved in caregiving for a family member. The GRAFIA professional services help support caregivers so they don’t burn out.
Unlike the RSFIA, the GRAFIA program also works with families going through crisis such as fire loss, home foreclosure and other things.
Like the RSFIA, the GRAFIA program uses a low-cost fee schedule. For example, a round trip transportation service would be charged $5.
Freih said the GRAFIA is a “Thrive” program.
“A lot of families are surviving, but we want to help them to thrive,” Freih said.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.