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Feb 24, 2012 | Carol McCall, Pruitt Davis

St. Francis, Temple, Starts Alzheimer's Community Respite

Members of St. Francis, Temple, began Tuesday’s Solace, an Alzheimer’s community respite, more than three years ago as an outreach ministry supporting families affected by the disease.  A couple in the congregation was struggling with the husband’s recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis and his wife needed support.  Ellen (not her real name) found a respite group at a nearby Lutheran Church but wondered if her own church could offer something similar.


With the assistance of the Capital of Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, church members learned how to organize a program and received training. The Lutheran Group met in the mornings on Thursdays so St. Francis’ decided to meet in the afternoons on Tuesdays to allow people to participate in both.


Beginning in September, 2008, they welcomed their first guests and today have 25 volunteers come each week to assist with an average of eight Alzheimer participants in early-mid stages of the disease. There are sometimes people with other forms of dementia. Each participant is partnered with a trained volunteer.


Guests’ registration includes medication information, physical abilities and permission form for photography and video. All volunteers receive Safeguarding God’s People training (required by the Diocese of Texas) and have background checks. Once a month, the volunteers gather to plan and confer on participant needs.


Several volunteers greet guests when they arrive for the afternoon of planned activities. After gathering for snacks, guests and volunteers form a “friendship circle” near the piano for several hymns and a devotional message. Volunteers arrange for the devotional message by an area minister or lay person from various churches. Chair exercises keep everyone in a good mood with a lively Hokey Pokey or Chicken Dance followed by refreshments. Several volunteers serve in the kitchen each week. On alternate weeks there is live musical entertainment or Bingo and arts and crafts with puzzles and other games. Several senior groups have provided line-dancers and a choir to entertain on occasions. Occasionally the program includes storytelling, skits or singing old favorites. Music therapy has been well-received by guests and is a highly recommended activity for Alzheimer’s patients. Volunteers try to get to know their guests so that they can be more responsive to their particular needs. Each guest has a memory box with photography that is used to help them talk about themselves.


Families tell us how much they appreciate having an afternoon to rest or time to run errands, and they appreciate how well their loved ones are cared for in the program. From a member’s personal challenge in caring for her husband has blossomed a compassionate ministry to families in the church and beyond.


Volunteers and donations for the program come from St. Francis and other area churches. Remaining costs include stationary, paper products, coffee and hand sanitizer. The church prints the brochures to help recruit volunteers and guests from other churches and the community.


For help in establishing a similar ministry, contact Capital of Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Their services are free. Contact them at 572.241.0420 or 800.367.2132 or email .  All volunteer hours are reported to the Alzheimer’s Association.