By Colleen Harvot, Director of In-Home Care at Valley VNA Senior Care
I am very fortunate to be part of Memory Care Respite Partners, a twice-monthly program in Oshkosh. It’s ironic that a program developed for people and families experiencing memory loss has proven itself so successful at making new memories. Every time I participate in an afternoon session, I see people discovering community as they come together to support one another.
First, a short explanation of Memory Care Respite Partners: it is a community collaboration to provide free respite care for caregivers to people experiencing memory loss, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. The Oshkosh program is offered by reservation on the third and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 1860 Wisconsin Street, Oshkosh.
The program is a partnership between the Winnebago County Aging and Disability Resource Center, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and Valley VNA Senior Care. These partners saw a crucial unmet need for caregiver support, many of whom are spouses or children of aging parents. The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation supported our desire to come together to start the Oshkosh Memory Care Respite program with a $4,000 grant from the Community Impact Fund. Together we have created a safe, nonjudgmental, and respectful space for people with memory loss.
I participate in each session as the respite care coordinator and work alongside Courtnie, a Valley VNA-employed professional caregiver who is available to help up to 10 participants with personal cares and behavioral assistance during our time together. The rest of the energy and enthusiasm is provided by an incredible volunteer corps from Our Savior’s. These men and women step forward to engage with our respite clients in genuine companionship. The men tend to gather together as menfolk often do, and the ladies enjoy lively visits with one another. We honor one another’s humanity, treat one another as we would wish to be treated, share some music while we play bingo, make a craft, or create a simple culinary masterpiece in one of our most popular activities, “Cooking with Courtnie.”
Carol Kossel is a full-time caregiver to her husband Jim, 78, and she especially loves the volunteers from Our Savior’s. “They are so kind and so welcoming to Jim,” she said. “I never see any hesitation from him, despite the fact that he doesn’t speak much anymore.” She treasures her monthly breaks from caregiving and the chance for Jim to interact with other people besides herself.
“I am really, really thankful. I don’t know what we would do without regular outings, to only be at home 24 hours a day.” ~ Carol Kossel
I have worked in senior care for more than 30 years and still marvel at the commitment of caregiving spouses and children who work 24/7 to keep their husband, wife, or parent healthy, safe, and content in the midst of life-altering memory loss. In a world of uncertainty, it is a privilege to be part of a team whose sole purpose is to be present to one another.
Participants in Memory Care Respite Partners must call ahead to Vicki at Our Savior’s at (920) 235-4850 to make a reservation. This is a free program.