Volunteers provide Helping Hands at church in Little Rock

Caregivers get a break from work each week

Rev. Daniel Curry, Carole Wilson and David Holmes, who work with the Pulaski Heights UMC Helping Hands program
Rev. Daniel Curry, Carole Wilson and David Holmes, who work with the Pulaski Heights UMC Helping Hands program

Carole Wilson and David Holmes spend their Tuesdays serving as Helping Hands, and they leave each week feeling like they received more than they gave.

Helping Hands is a ministry of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, offering respite care for senior citizens and their caregivers once a week, from 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., at the church.

The program allows caregivers a brief respite, while knowing the person in their constant care is safe and being cared for, says Holmes, a lifelong member of the church and a volunteer with Helping Hands for the last two years.

"There are so many families now where caregivers are caring for people in their homes and this is just an invaluable ministry for these people -- for the clients as well as for their caregivers," says Wilson, a retired nurse.

Wilson joined Pulaski Heights in 2011, and sought out a volunteer opportunity like this.

"I went one day and I was hooked. I've been coming back ever since," she says.

Holmes is particularly well-aware of how important respite care is for caregivers.

"I was caregiver to my mother before her death," he says. "I know a program like this is a great resource for caregivers because it allows a few hours to do whatever work needs to be done, be it banking or grocery shopping or anything like that, or just to have a few hours of rest themselves."

He feels special empathy toward the clients as well as toward families who need that respite help, as well, remembering how important it was to him to be comfortable with leaving his mother in someone else's care when he needed to.

Holmes works one-on-one with a client each week.

"It's what I'm comfortable with," he says. "You do need to form a bond and I need to be with that person every week to form that bond. He knows who I am and when I come to the car with his wheelchair I can tell from his eyes that he knows who I am. He knows he's in a safe place and he's going to be safe until his caregiver comes back to pick him up."

He has formed a friendship with that man's caregiver, and he checks in from time to time when that man is late or misses a Tuesday to see if everything is OK.

Rev. Daniel Curry oversees the program and plans the activities for clients.

The program is $25 per day per client and includes a day of low-impact exercise, healthy lunch, and entertainment.

"When clients come in they see familiar faces. Everybody welcomes them by name. They come in and we have coffee or tea, they sit and color, they do puzzles, they sit and visit with each other ... we have activities all day long," Wilson says. "We do exercise class. We sing hymns. We have a devotional and sometimes we have different music groups come in, we have a dog ministry that the members bring their therapy dogs and come visit with clients. We try to just meet their needs where they are every day."

Not all volunteers are present every Tuesday. Some choose to go one or two Tuesdays each month and others are more sporadic. The ratio of volunteers, though, is at least one per client.

"There's never been a time in my almost two years where we've been short of volunteers," says Holmes, whose work as a consultant allows him the flexibility to volunteer each week. "I do it because when I leave the church at 3 after each week's session, I just have a really warm feeling that I've done something good for somebody. I've helped an individual who has health issues and I've helped an individual who's a caregiver and I worked with all the other volunteers, to make sure that they're having a good day."

Wilson, too, makes time in her schedule to be there every week.

"It really appealed to me because I love taking care of people, and it was just a good fit for me," she says. "It has been a real blessing, for sure."

The day usually closes with a movie or a television show, like "I Love Lucy," "Little House on the Prairie," "Andy Griffith" or "The Carol Burnett Show."

"The clients all look forward to coming. It's a good outing for them as well as it is for the caregivers, who get a break. They can have a few hours for themselves to get some things done that they needed to get done," she says.

Curry says the program has a waiting list.

"That's not to say that as our volunteer pool grows that we can't accept more clients," Curry says. "With the number of volunteers we have and the ratios we need we have a comfortable max of about 10 to 12."

He would love to see other programs like Helping Hands spring up throughout the community.

"If every church had a small ministry like this and helped 10 people in their congregation, that would be wonderful," Curry says. "That would be a wonderful help for those families and to serve their clients."

More information about Helping Hands is available at phumc.com/helping-hands.

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