Answering God’s call, Illinois UCC Church Grows Ministry for Caregivers and their Loved Ones

What do you do when you feel God’s call?

At St. John Evangelical United Church of Christ in Collinsville, Ill., church members acted. Called to serve people who were home bound, they created St. John’s Community Care in 1985 to help not only home-bound individuals, but their families as well.

On April 28, St. John’s Community Care holds its annual “Surviving Caregiving — A Map through the Maze” seminar. The day is devoted to helping families deal with the myriad of issues that crop up when caring for loved ones. Included are keynote presentations on legal and financial issues; how to talk to an older adult family member about driving issues; Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders; and caregiver emotional support.

AgeSmart Resources, the local Area Agency on Aging, and Hospice of Southern Illinois partner with St. John’s for the event.

Local youth stopped by St. John’s Community Care Adult Day Center to share in Easter crafts.

“The goal is simple: provide families with the knowledge, resources, and connections they need to provide good care without wearing themselves out in the process,” says Nancy J. Berry, executive director of St. John’s Community Care. “Too often, family caregivers neglect their own health in order to care for a spouse, parent, or disabled child.”

The seminar includes complimentary care at St. John’s Adult Day Center during the conference hours. The center opened in 2001, after church volunteers worked together to build it. To meet the ever-increasing demand for Adult Day Programs, a second center opened in 2013 in nearby Edwardsville, Ill.

“I had certainly hoped we could fill our building, but did not expect to have more than one site,” says Berry about the growth of the Adult Day Program.

Berry says it took about three or four years before the center began to break even. Many people don’t even know that Adult Day Services exist, she says, “and once they learn about them, there is great hesitation on letting someone else help with caring for their loved one.”

The annual seminar is one way family caregivers can learn first-hand about the Adult Day Centers and the other programs at St. John’s. “Usually 5-to-10 of the 35-to-50 attendees need to bring their person needing care with them,” says Berry. “Some … are already using our Adult Day Services. Others are introduced to it that day and discover that their loved one enjoyed him/herself and enroll later.”

St. John’s also offers support groups for family caregivers. Additionally, there is a specialized Alzheimer’s support group for families caring for loved ones with the disease. A monthly Cardinals Reminiscence League group is open to people with early memory loss who want to share memories about the Cardinals baseball team and support the current team.

A local storyteller brings the Easter story to life for her Adult Day Center audience.

“The community knows we provide dependable, compassionate, high-quality care, in homes as well as in our two Adult Day Centers,” Berry says. People know “they can call us to find out about other resources. [For example,] we teach Savvy Caregiver classes using evidence-based curriculum which is proving to be very valuable to the families who attend.”

Although St. John’s isn’t limited to individuals with dementia or other cognitive impairments, Berry says the majority of families she sees are dealing with these types of situations. “With the dramatic growth in dementia as the population ages, Adult Day needs to be one of the care options … it is less expensive than other care options and is valuable both to the participant and to their caregiver(s).”

Whether people need to borrow medical equipment or just have a question, St. John’s Community Care is there to help, says Berry.

“We know the local resources, and always make time to talk with people who call or drop in,” she says. “We see the good we do every day — and firmly believe this is a path on which God set our church more than 30 years ago.”

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