Much of the work we do across the nation cannot be quantified. But you can definitely see it, hear it, and sense it whenever you encounter any of the thousands of older lives we touch every day with our work. From the smile that meets a volunteer driver to the hug that greets a new friend to the sense of relief that help is on its way, we’ve been creating strong, engaged lives for 2.5 million older adults and their families over the last 49 years.
After a long run as pastor for a rural Mississippi congregation, David realized that in retirement, he still thirsted for opportunities to stay connected with others. And so he connected with Shepherd’s Center of Greater Tupelo (MS) where he and his wife, Susie, quickly found great camaraderie and enjoyed a variety of monthly educational programs. His service expanded when he signed up with the Center as a volunteer driver to escort those in his community who could no longer drive to appointments. He found that this additional opportunity to give back to those in need also helped him meet and connect with even more neighbors. “I get more out of this experience than I give,” David says of his volunteer driving service. His sentiment is one shared nearly universally by all volunteer drivers.
Then the tables turned. After falling ill several years ago, David was suddenly robbed of his own ability to drive. No longer being able to serve in his volunteer driving role was an incredible loss for him. But he also found the transition to needing to now ask for help a difficult one. With his wife no longer driving as well, Shepherd’s Center of Greater Tupelo helped them gracefully transition from helpful driver to grateful passengers. For most, it’s hard to ask for help. The reasons are varied, but all understandable: loss of independence, loss of self-worth, fear of further loss, concern or lack of trust of help that is available, and for some it also might include financial concerns. Now on the receiving end of services he once so enjoyed providing, David says, “it’s a good feeling to know that I’ve done this in the past because I now realize what it really means to receive.”
We spend a lot of time counting…the number of people served, numbers of volunteers, numbers of hours they’ve given, and so on. These numbers are of course important, but it’s important to remember that each number represents a person: a person whose life has been changed because of what we do. Meet Laura. On Tuesday mornings just before 11AM, you can always find her arriving at chair yoga class. She piles out of the car with three ladies, all friends who carpool faithfully for class every week since it first started in 2010 through Shepherd’s Center of Webster-Kirkwood (MO). Chair yoga goes beyond just fun times with friends for Laura. Ask and she’ll quickly tell you all about her improved health. She’s diabetic and as a result of her commitment to her weekly chair yoga, as well as line dance classes and cooking and nutrition programs at Shepherd’s Center, Laura’s doctor has taken her off insulin. Determined to maintain this milestone, Laura now attends chair yoga three times a week. Shepherd’s Centers programs offer important friendships. They offer wonderful educational opportunities. And they offer outstanding health benefits as well. Just ask Laura. She’ll quickly tell you about the new lease on life she’s found through Shepherd’s Centers programs!
“I moved to North Carolina to be near my son”, Katherine recounts. “It was good being closer to him, but my lifelong friends were all back home.” Her first exposure to Shepherd’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem (NC) was because I needed a ride to a medical appointment,” she recalls. “My son had to work, so he arranged for a Shepherd’s Center volunteer to drive me.” “It was awkward at first,” she admits. But the volunteer, Nancy, was gracious and talkative. Knowing Katherine was headed to a physical therapy appointment, she asked if she’d be interested in attending a Tai Chi class offered by Shepherd’s Center. “I told her my balance was really bad, but Nany persisted.” And so a couple weeks later she found herself in her first Tai Chi class. “I loved it and have now been doing Tai Chi for over four years. My balance is so much better!” From Tai Chi Katherine learned about Shepherd’s Center’s Adventures in Learning program. It was a line dancing class that caught her attention. “I signed up and loved it!” She kept at it today Katherine travels to nearby cities to dance on Friday or Saturday nights! “Before I became involved with Shepherd’s Center,” she says. “I had an existence. But now thanks to Shepherd’s Center, I have a life!”
As a professor in the Department of Physical Education, Janis had always stayed active, filled with energy and a passion for active living. Upon retirement, she pledged to not only stay active, but continue her joy of teaching others. Retired from college teaching, this active 86-year-old found Shepherd’s Center of Spartanburg (SC) and for the last 15 years has taught aerobics three days a week – logging more than 2,000 volunteer hours. To say that Janis is an inspiration to the older adults who participate in her classes would be an understatement. She has a loyal group, if not a following. They are inspired and motivated by the octogenarian to make exercise a part of their lives. With Janis’ skills and guidance, Shepherd’s Center has expanded their exercise options and today is the only older adult-focused organization offering a weeklong fitness program. In addition to aerobics classes, cardio line dancing, and Tai Chi are also offered.
While these classes all bring fun and joy to participants, nearly every one also reports documented health improvements, including reduced blood pressure, better range of motion, improved balance, stronger muscle tone, greater bone strength, and overall weight control. In fact, so important are the benefits of these classes that Shepherd’s Center of Spartanburg has won awards for its diabetes management initiative, of which Janis’ exercise classes are an integral part. As important as the health aspects, class participants say that’s not all that keeps them coming back. They fall in love with Janis, each other, and the Shepherd’s Center. With a strong body and a heart for others, Janis is clearly creating a deeply positive impact not only those in the Spartanburg community, but across South Carolina as well!
Ray’s story is a perfect example of how the support of one program and volunteer relationship blossomed into so much more. Ray was matched with a volunteer, Al, to help him gain access to the internet and use a tablet to connect with his nephew in another state. Al visited for several weeks, helping Ray become more comfortable using his device and the internet. On one visit, he learned that Ray had been putting off his routine colonoscopy for more than a year because he didn’t have a way to get home following the procedure. Al coordinated with the Shepherd’s Center to have another volunteer, Daphne, not only drive but accompany Ray at every step. After the procedure, she made sure to understand follow-up care, drove Ray home, and made sure he was resting comfortably before leaving. Ray did need follow-up treatment, but if it weren’t for Daphne and Al, who helped him get to a screening, the outcome might have been far worse.
“In 2014, my life was suddenly and forever changed,” says Robin. “I became a caregiver for my mother, a typical southern lady who was strong, kind, and helpful.” Robin continues, “It was the abrupt change in my mother’s behavior that was so unexpected. One week she is babysitting my children, and the next she is unable to be left alone.” A fact that is complicated since Robin lives an hour away. After several months that included specialist appointments and hospitalizations, a diagnosis is still a bit elusive. However, it’s clear Robin’s mother has some form of dementia. “I was thrust into the role of caregiver for my mother while attempting to care for my own family and keep up with job responsibilities.” A challenge for anyone. Robin says she thought she was aware of the challenges of caregiving, after all, she watched her mother care for her grandmother, had read books on caregiving, and had worked for a time in a caregiving role. She says, “I quickly learned that there is a difference in what the head knows and the heart feels.”
“Thankfully, the Shepherd’s Center has the breadth of experience to walk beside me on this journey so that I don’t feel alone.”
“I turned to a number of community resources but found the support of the Shepherd’s Center the most valuable.” According to Robin, “They helped me understand some of mother’s Medicare issues, drove her to meet up with friends so I could work, and connected me to a caregiver support group.” This help made a world of difference. No two journeys through caregiving for a loved one are exactly alike. Robin says, “Thankfully, the Shepherd’s Center has the breadth of experience to walk beside me on this journey so that I don’t feel alone.”