It started with an email five years ago from Brenda Starr-Jude, Adult Advocacy Staff Guardian, at Catholic Charities. During the holiday season, Brenda was looking for donors and volunteers to adopt an elderly client through Catholic Charities’ Project Bethlehem program.
“Most people tend to forget about seniors during the holidays,” says Brenda. “My clients, the majority of them, have no one visiting except for me.”
A lot of Brenda’s senior clients in the Guardianship Program are wards of the state who have little or no family and are unable to take care of themselves.
Brenda reached out to Jana, a 6th grade teacher at Eastern Elementary School.
“I asked the other sixth grade teachers if they would be interested in doing this together,” says Jana.
Every year since then, students and their teachers – Jana, Joni and others – adopted a senior through the Catholic Charities’ program.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to think of other people,” Jana continues.
In recent years, they have adopted two seniors whom they have nicknamed “Grandma Virginia” and “Grandpa Herman.” During the holiday season, the students bring in monetary donations to help purchase gifts from their adopted grandparents’ Christmas wish list.
Last year, Grandpa Herman — who was diagnosed with a form of dementia — needed a flat panel television that could be mounted onto his wall for safety reasons. Joni and her students decided to step up to the task.
“That was our goal, and the students were really excited that we had enough money to buy him the T.V.,” Joni says.
When it came time to deliver the presents, Grandpa Herman was overjoyed. As Brenda walked into his room with the neatly wrapped television, she asked, “Mr. P., do you want to open this?” He responded with excitement, “Oh no, it’s too big!”
The giving does not stop after Christmas. Throughout the year, the students participate in projects to send to their adopted grandparents.
“We try to remember them during the major holidays: Thanksgiving, their birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. This Halloween, we bought them candy,” Joni and Jana said.
Grandma Virginia loves to show Brenda the messages the students write on her cards.
“It’s impacted both of their lives, but it’s been especially wonderful for Virginia,” Brenda says. “She is fully alert, and the students have become like extended family to her. She was only married for four or five years and never had any children. She’s told me they’re like her grandchildren.”
“It’s not just a one-time giving project during the holiday season,” Brenda adds. “It’s truly an adoption.”
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously; defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
Imagine being vulnerable from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or mental illness. You have no one looking out for you. No family. No emergency contact. No one is protecting you or your interests. You’re at risk for abuse, exploitation, wandering off, hunger, illness, injury, poor hygiene, dreadful living conditions, loneliness and other bleak scenarios. It’s pretty scary.
Thankfully, people like Barb Strohm make it their business to look out for people who face challenges beyond their mental capacity. She’s a Volunteer Guardian for Nancy, who’s 75 years old, living in a nursing home with mental illness and confined to a wheelchair. With no family to care for Nancy, Barb volunteered to become her legal guardian through Catholic Charities’ Advocacy Services. Barb essentially serves the interests of Nancy just as a caring family member would.
Barb accompanies Nancy to doctor’s appointments, visits her, takes her on outings and hosts tea parties at the nursing home. And moved by the love of Christ, she holds Nancy dear in her heart. “No matter where we are in our walk in life, we need that contact,” says Barb. “I look around and I see what people are doing and I hope someone will push my wheelchair outside someday.”
Barb adds: “Nancy helps me figure out what’s important in my life and relationships. I feel grateful that I have this time in my life to do this. I don’t really have anything to grumble about.” She tells a story about taking Nancy to Battery Park in Sandusky. “I can’t get Nancy out of my car without help. So we parked the car facing the water. I knew she liked fish. We shared a pound of perch and French fries in the car,” she laughs. “And we just drove around downtown Sandusky looking at the flowers. She said she got to see things she hasn’t seen, and that about made me cry.”
“Most of her day is spent sitting in a wheelchair waiting for food or bingo. When you walk into a facility, all you have to do is walk in and they light up,” Barb says of Nancy and the other residents she’s met in the two years she’s been Nancy’s advocate. “The staff told me since I’ve been her guardian they’ve seen a real difference in her.”
Adult advocates like Barb truly do make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. “I would encourage someone to be a friend. It’s given me a lot of joy; I look forward to seeing Nancy,” Barb says. “There are a lot of people who don’t have people to love or care about them. It’s my privilege.”
Take heart in knowing you – our donors – helped create this true story of hope and fulfillment of God’s promise to care for His children. Imagine that.
The Adult Advocacy Services arm of Catholic Charities helps adults 55 and older who are deemed incompetent by the courts and who have no family resources to call upon. The aim is to provide people with an appropriate level of care and guidance so their living arrangements can be stabilized and their dignity upheld.
Martha had been hospitalized more than twelve times in a six-month period of time. She needed medication to help her cope with her mental illness, so that she could take care of her physical health and her living situation. Catholic Charities was named Martha’s guardian after an emergency referral from a local hospital. She was placed in a nursing home and, in time, submitted to all treatments, including medication. This was a major improvement.
“At Catholic Charities, we try to concentrate on the appropriateness of the assistance we’re providing,” David Moebius, Operations Manager, said. “We expect something from just about every person we serve. It’s about empowerment, accomplishment and independence –and not simply handouts.”
Martha is now living with her sister in her sister’s home. She has improved to the point that her sister now believes she can take care of her, so the sister has applied to the court to become Martha’s guardian.
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Jim was suffering from dementia. He’d begun wandering away from home at night, and his 70-year-old nephew was having to go out at all hours to find him and bring him back home. At times, Jim would become agitated and shout at family members who were helping him. The family also reported that when they would bring Jim food, he would often feed it to his 15 cats. He wasn’t bathing or eating regularly, and his clothes were hanging off of him like curtains.
Clearly, Jim was having problems caring for himself, so local authorities called Adult Advocacy Services for assistance. Staff interviewed Jim in his home, saw the situation and decided an emergency guardianship should be sought. This was secured the following day. They took Jim to the local emergency room to have him checked over. He was eventually placed in a nursing facility near his home, which he came to enjoy very much.
“Everyone deserves to live in dignity, in clean, safe surroundings,” Moebius said. “For a lot of people, Catholic Charities is the curbstone at the edge of the abyss.”
The Norwalk office of Catholic Charities works with local community service providers to help individuals who, due to disability or circumstances, are unable to cope with the demands of life.
The 55-year-old man had always lived with his mother, who took care of him. When she was admitted into a local nursing home, he lapsed into a marginal existence. He was frequently exploited by neighbors who invited him to buy beer and drink with them.
When Catholic Charities learned of the situation, the man had fallen behind on his rent and utilities, since most of his money was being used to buy cigarettes and beer for the neighborhood. Also, his apartment was in need of maintenance, poorly furnished, and in an unsafe part of town.
Catholic Charities was able to provide him with financial education to help him make better decisions. He was placed in an apartment at another location and teamed with a local support group for ongoing contacts to help him avoid similar problems in the future.
“Our mission is not simply to provide people with whatever they need for as long as they need it,” Pat Krause, Catholic Charities Program Director, said. “We’re always taking steps toward teaching, guiding, supporting people in need, so that in the future they can provide for themselves to whatever extent possible.”
A 30-year-old developmentally disabled man had no income and no family to rely on for assistance. He had moved around from place to place, often being taken advantage of because of his disability. He was not aware of the assistance available to the developmentally disabled, so he had never accessed those services.
“Many times, people are just unable to access the support that already exists for them in the community,” Krause said. “In this case, we were able to organize the multiple service providers who then coordinated services for him. He was assisted with rent payments until he could establish a regular income through a job and through federal supplemental security income benefits,” she said. “One of our most important – and most successful – services is simply to line people up with the existing community resources. They need to live in dignity.”