Back in action

As a new school semester dawned this past January, three of our former summer interns returned to A Helping Hand as volunteers. These three students had enjoyed their time as interns, but their schedules hadn’t allowed them to continue volunteering after their internships came to an end. Now that it’s a new semester and their schedules have opened up, they were inspired to get back involved with the volunteer program!

Sumana interned in the summer of 2016. She was inspired by the three clients she worked with for several hours each week. She also got to meet a wide variety of clients that she assisted with one-time visits, providing transportation to medical appointments. When she decided to start volunteering again, she said, “I enjoyed my experience as an intern at AHH and wanted to continue with a volunteer experience that I felt was rewarding. AHH is a great experience because of the people you meet. I’ve found there is something new to learn from every client which has positively influenced the way I view the world.”

Anna Beth was also a summer intern in 2016. The connections she made with her clients made the experience meaningful for her. She had a strong affinity for one of her clients in particular, and they kept in touch after Anna Beth completed her internship. Now with a lighter course load, she was able to commit to volunteering with us again this semester. She told us, “I’m excited to get back out in the community and spend time with clients again!”

Juliette interned with us last summer. She was drawn to AHH for the service learning aspect of our internship program, as well as for the opportunity to learn more about working with older adults. Throughout the summer, the conversations she had with her clients stood out to her. “Every week gave me an opportunity to learn something new about each of my clients. They always told me how grateful they were for AHH and the help I provided them each week, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to meet people that I never would have without AHH,” she said. During her internship, she learned the importance of AHH’s work in the community, and she came back to us, in her words, “because I love being part of an organization that is so dedicated to advocating for a population that often cannot advocate for itself.”

Despite their busy school schedules, the connections these interns made to their clients and the community sparked an enduring passion for serving older adults.

Welcome back to AHH!

Maybe a senior, but always a sister

Today we have a guest post from Mallory, one of our volunteers, who shared a special experience with her client Ms. H.

I thought it would be a great idea to bring Ms. H to lunch at my sorority house when she told me that she was previously a sorority house mom for another sorority at UNC and she loved all of the girls and felt like they kept her young. I figured my sorority house would be very similar to the one she lived in for 7 years, so I asked her if she would like to come. She was SO excited that I asked her and said she couldn’t wait. We planned this two weeks ago and when I got to her house to pick her up today, she was dressed and ready and couldn’t wait to get in the car to go.

My experience was, in one word, rewarding. I truly could feel the joy Ms. H was experiencing as she walked into my house, looked around and complimented the furniture and decorations, and introduced herself to everyone she saw. It reminded me that something that seems so small to you can mean so much to someone else. Taking Ms. H to lunch was no big deal to me, but it was the happiest I have ever seen her. Ms. H told me as we were leaving that she hoped we could do it again one day because she absolutely loved meeting my friends and being back in a sorority house on a college campus.

Ms. H’s reaction was in the form of a smile on her face from the time we walked in the door until well beyond when we left. She was so excited to meet my friends, tell me about her time living in a sorority house as their house mom, and hear about some of the things we do. She talked to each of my friends as if they were her own grandchildren and told each of them she was honored to know me, which made me realize the impact I have on her life, as well as the impact she has on mine.

The response from the other members of my sorority was overwhelming. Each of them were eager to meet Ms. H, find out who she was and why I was with her, and hear a little about her life. She shared with several girls about her time at UNC and asked thoughtful questions that made each person she spoke to feel like she genuinely cared about them and wanted to get to know them, which is one of my favorite things about Ms. H.

Overall, it was a great experience for everyone involved. It was incredible to be able to bring Ms. H to my house, allowing her to get to know me better, seeing how her eyes lit up, and seeing just how much she enjoyed interacting with so many people.

Ms. H also shared her story with StoryCorps as part of the Great Thanksgiving Listen. You can hear her speak about her life as a sorority house mother here!

Denise serves clients and companions with compassion

When potential clients and companions find out about A Helping Hand, the first person they meet is Denise. Denise Matthewson is our director of client services, which means she helps all of our new clients and companions through the onboarding process.

For clients, this process typically starts with a phone call from a potential client or a family member. Denise describes the type of services AHH can provide, and learns about the client’s particular needs. Then, she visits the client at home, to assess their needs more clearly and go through the enrollment paperwork. Back at the office, she shares information about the client with Rebecca, who manages and schedules the companions, so we can make a perfect client-companion match!

Denise also manages the hiring process for our new companions. She meets each applicant and completes a thorough interview, to determine if their skills match up with our clients’ needs. Denise then leads new hires through our comprehensive orientation process. (We are constantly in need of companions to serve our growing client base; you can learn more and apply here!)

Denise came to A Helping Hand because she was looking for a position that involved more one-on-one interaction than her previous work. She started working for AHH as a companion in 2009, and continued in that role for six years. Throughout that time, she served 50 clients, including several consistently for years. Over her career with AHH, Denise has completed nearly 900 client visits! When a position opened up in our office, volunteer coordinator Steffi remembered Denise’s dedication to her clients and her care and compassion. These qualities have made her a perfect fit for a role that involves connecting clients and families in need with companion care and other community resources.

As if her responsibilities with new clients and companions weren’t enough to keep her busy, Denise also serves many different community groups that are working to improve life for local seniors. She works with the Durham Partnership for Seniors, the Committee on Senior Food and Nutrition, the Chatham Aging Plan, and the Chatham-Orange Community Resource Connections.

Thank you, Denise, for taking on this challenging role with grace and empathy!

It takes a village

Two weeks ago, our new group of spring interns kicked off their internship with a day of orientation. Through this process, they learned the ins and outs of being companion. They discussed their perceptions of older adults, participated in a sensitivity training to simulate some of the physical impairments our clients experience, practiced using mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, learned about managing difficult behaviors associated with dementia, and heard from an A Helping Hand client about her experiences with companions.

In addition to their initial orientation, interns continue to learn throughout the semester through various events in the community, as well as team meetings put together by AHH. To make all of these informative trainings happen, we have a great team of people who volunteer their time to teach our interns how to work with older adults!

Kayla Chee, one of our volunteers (and our 2017 volunteer of the year!), is a physical therapy student at Duke. She provides our interns with mobility training, showing them how to use the assistive devices their clients might use – canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.

Stephani Deberry from Therapeutic Alternatives teaches our interns about managing dementia-related behaviors. Although not many of our interns’ clients have dementia, this training is invaluable future clinicians!

Brittany Halberstadt from the Nasher Museum provides an overview of the Nasher’s Reflections Program, a monthly guided tour for adults with dementia and their caregivers. This is one of a handful of similar programs across the U.S. that allows people with dementia to experience art.

Keegan Cheleden, a Duke Divinity School student and AHH companion, has provided trainings on a variety of subjects, including the importance of physical touch in caregiving, and death and dying.

Kathy Bonner, a former companion, has provided our interns with insights into the role of a companion. She shared her experience as a companion that our clients’ worlds get smaller as they age, and that a companion’s job is to open their worlds back up.

Jennifer Ashley, our Executive Director, provides the foundation of our training by making sure the interns understand all of our policies and procedures. She also provides an additional training during the semester on dementia as a human rights issue.

Our clients! Several of our clients have contributed their knowledge in training our interns. This semester, Ms. B answered interns’ questions and shared her positive and negative experiences with past interns. The previous semester, Ms. R, a former nurse, told the interns about her career in healthcare.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to educate our interns!

The heroes of winter break

College students make up a significant portion of our volunteer base. We love their energy, and their schedules usually match up well with the times that clients need help the most. However, during the holidays and other school breaks when students leave town en masse, we typically have to turn down requests from clients because we don’t have enough volunteers available. This year, our volunteer base has grown, and we have several locally-based volunteers who unfailingly donate their time, no matter the season. Their dependability is getting A Helping Hand clients through the holidays! Read more

Steffi serves ceaselessly

Happy Giving Tuesday! In celebration of this day of giving, we’d like to honor Steffi, our volunteer and internship program director. Steffi provides the backbone for all the work we do at A Helping Hand, managing the entire charitable program, with more than 90 clients, 60 volunteers, and up to 15 new interns each semester.

Steffi first started working in the nonprofit world with AmeriCorps, where she served a variety of nonprofits throughout the Northeast. She knew she wanted to continue working for a nonprofit, but didn’t know exactly what area to focus on. She found AHH through a friend who was working as a program coordinator here at the time.

Steffi started out at AHH as a backup companion. She did some office work, but her primary role was as a companion – working with several clients consistently and covering any last minute companion call outs. She then became a fellow, working in scheduling for both the private pay and charitable programs while still assisting clients regularly. After an incredibly busy and stressful fellowship year, Steffi packed up for a year of teaching in Spain.

When she returned to the US, Steffi came back to AHH, this time as the volunteer coordinator, where she has continued for the past two years. She juggles countless tasks on a daily basis, including volunteer and intern recruitment and onboarding, maintaining client and volunteer schedules, managing AHH’s social media, attending trainings, coordinating special events, assisting with paid program scheduling, donating to AHH fundraisers, and occasionally visiting clients. Read more