The Gift is to be Present to One Another

By Colleen Harvot, Director of In-Home Care at Valley VNA Senior Care

This blog was originally posted by the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. Memory Care Respite Partners is offered in both Oshkosh and Neenah. Information on how to pre-register for each location is noted below.

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 from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church at 1860 Wisconsin Street in Oshkosh.

man plays instruments

Music is a big part of Memory Care Respite Partners.

The program is a partnership between Winnebago ADRC, 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 share our time and expertise to give caregivers a well-earned break with a $4,000 Community Impact grant to start the Oshkosh Memory Care Respite program. Together we create 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.”

happy couple at respite care

Carol and Jim Kossel participate on Memory Care Respite Partners in Oshkosh

Carol Kossel is a full-time caregiver to her husband Jim, 78, and she especially loves the volunteers from Our Savior’s when they come together to Memory Care Respite Partners in Oshkosh. “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.”

I have worked in senior care for more than 30 years and still only 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. For me, it’s where new memories are made.

Participants in the Oshkosh 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.

Memory Care Respite Partners is also offered in Neenah on the first and second Mondays of each month, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., at St. Paul Lutheran Church on N. Commercial Street. Call (920) 383-1180 to make a reservation.