Who cares for caregivers?

Harriett Marshall's husband, Bob, required 24-hour care the last five years of his life.

And, no matter how much you love someone, providing continual care takes a toll on the caregiver.

Marshall said she is thankful she had the assistance of volunteers with the Care Team Ministry at her church, St. John's United Methodist in Dover, N.H., to do some of her chores and give her a respite now and then.

"It gave me a sense that the Lord was really taking care of me," she said. "It gave me some physical relief, as well as mental and emotional."

Marshall said that since she doesn't have family near, it is good to know that her church family is there to support her.

The Care Team Ministry is the way the Rev. Nancy Jo Johnson shares her faith.

Volunteers involved in the ministry she formed provide the type of assistance they would offer a neighbor or family member, such as help with chores and lawn work. They provide companionship by visiting people in their homes or in nursing homes. They take food to the sick and provide transportation to the elderly and a respite for caregivers.

While making their visits, volunteers who have been trained by Johnson will pray and share Scripture with those who can't make it to church.

Over a period of five years, Marshall said Care Team members selflessly cleaned out her garage and did the fall cleaning of her yard. They made sure her husband got to his doctor's appointments, to get his hair cut and to and from adult day care.

A couple even took Bob Marshall, who had Alzheimer's disease, for the weekend.

"That was probably above and beyond the call of duty," Marshall said.

But, they became her support system.

Combining healing and salvation

Marshall said she doesn't know how she would have made it through those five years without the Care Team. Even though Bob has been gone for three years now, Marshall, 80, said she still gets a hug and a prayer from Care Team members.

And, even now, she can call them at a moment's notice if she needs a ride to the doctor.

Johnson said the team is following one of the main missions of the church by combining healing and salvation.

"It is just a rewarding feeling to think you are helping someone who is cooped up inside all of the time and can't get out."-Claramae Hebert, volunteer

Johnson, a parish nurse, formed the group at St. John's after she and her husband, Richard, moved to New Hampshire from Minnesota about 10 years ago. She led similar teams at other churches.

Her husband planned to retire, but Johnson had no plans to settle down.

She works part time providing health-care information to parishioners through blood-pressure clinics and providing informational brochures and sessions. She also provides referrals to those suffering from Alzheimer's disease or needing help navigating through the maze of the changing health-care system.

Johnson said organizing a care team is just an offshoot of her duties, and it fills a great need in the community, adding that she considers it her ministry and her call.

There are 14 members of the Care Team Ministry at St. John's. During an orientation session, Johnson trains volunteers about confidentiality, setting boundaries, being a good listener, assessing the needs of the one being served and being observant to any physical or mental changes that occur over time with the person they are serving.

Johnson said functioning as a team ministry provides "strength and energy." And, volunteers provide services as individuals or as pairs.

A rewarding feeling

While she doesn't think there are many ministries like this in existence throughout The United Methodist Church, Johnson said there is a great need - especially with the aging baby boomer population.

And, there may be an unheard need in the church.

Volunteer Claramae Hebert got involved in the Care Team because she knows what it is like to be a caregiver of loved ones, and she knows the toll it takes on the caregiver.

She didn't have any help when she was taking care of her ailing mother and husband; her church didn't have a Care Team then. Hebert had to hire a nurse when she needed a break.

"When I got back on my feet again I thought, 'You know what? It is time to see if others need help,'" she said.

Hebert said many people in the same situation often won't ask for help.

But, since she has been a caregiver, she said she can go to parishioners and let them know they don't have to do it all alone. She tells them they need to take a break every now and then for themselves.

Hebert said volunteers have made a difference in people wanting to continue living. They can look forward to having visitors and being able to get out of the home regularly, thanks to church volunteers.

"It is just a rewarding feeling to think you are helping someone who is cooped up inside all of the time and can't get out," she said.

Marshall said volunteers make a lasting impact on the lives of those they help.

They will get their rewards in heaven, she said.

*Edgemon is a freelance writer in Bell Buckle, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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