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Church Offers Day Services to Persons with Dementia

August 31, 2016
Participants and volunteers for the Wellspring program work on a craft.

Participants and volunteers for the Wellspring program work on a craft.

Chris Meehan

Louise Steffen’s kayak was strapped to the hatchback of her tiny Kia as she pulled into the parking lot of Reeman Christian Reformed Church in Fremont, Michigan.

Earlier she had paddled her kayak in nearby Fremont Lake. She had also met a friend for coffee. A few months ago, she would not have had the time to do either of those things because she provides round-the-clock care for her husband, Dale, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, she is able to get out for a few hours a couple of times a week because her husband is being cared for at Wellspring, a new ministry provided by Reeman CRC.

Entering the church fellowship hall, Steffen walked over to her husband, who was sitting at a table with others and doing a craft.

“This is such a wonderful program. It makes all the difference in the world,” said Steffen, a retired nurse.

“I was getting burned out because I wasn’t able to get away. But now, because I know he is totally safe, I can go out and enjoy myself and come home and be a better caregiver and not be all stressed out.”

Dale Steffen, 71, a retired corrections officer, was one of four people taking part in the program that day.

The session opened with devotions. Then the group played a couple of games, sang songs, ate lunch, and rested in comfortable chairs as a volunteer told stories aimed at helping them remember experiences in their lives.

At other times this summer, participants have taken walks and picked flowers around the church, watched exercise videos, and enjoyed a pontoon boat ride on a nearby lake.

With some regularity, Maggie, a therapy dog, and Rico, a pet Chinchilla, also stop by.

“Our guests really seem to love being here. At home, they can be so isolated and just sit around watching TV,” said Barbara Fox, a registered nurse who serves as coordinator of the program.

“I find that it is a joy and privilege to love these people and minister to them in a relaxed, homelike environment,” she said.

The idea for Wellspring came from church member Dennis Helmus, who taught geriatrics for several years at a community college. He now volunteers for the program.

“At first we identified a gap in our community in services for those who weren’t ready for a nursing home or a respite care facility and wanted to stay in their homes longer,” said Les Van Dyke, copastor of Reeman CRC..

After determining the need, they visited and got ideas from other programs for seniors with various forms of memory loss or other health concerns. They eventually visited a program called Still Water Adult Services in Indianapolis, Ind., which is a ministry of Castleton United Methodist Church.

Because of its connection to the local congregation, that program became the model for Wellspring, said Nate Kooistra, who is also a copastor of Reeman CRC.

“This is how we wanted to do it,” he said. “We wanted it very much to be a ministry of our church.”

Reeman CRC opened the program earlier this year with the help of a donation from a church member and a grant from the Fremont Area Foundation.

“We see that we are filling a niche that needs to be addressed. And, given the space we have as a church, we are well equipped to do this,” said Kooistra.

The church offers the program from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Currently five people from various faith backgrounds come regularly. Cost is $40 for half a day and $70 for a full day.

As a ministry of the church, the money goes into Reeman’s budget and helps to cover utilities and other costs.

“Right now we’re working to develop a scholarship to help families, and we’re looking into being able to offer this to people with Medicaid,” said Kooistra.

Mark Stephenson, director of the CRC’s Disability Concerns office, said he applauds Reeman for taking on this ministry and added that he would like to see other churches do the same.

“As the population ages, there is a greater need for services such as this,” said Stephenson. “Although it is tempting to think that a ministry like this is just for the people who attend and their caregivers, this is a ministry for and with the entire community. The people at Reeman church recognized where God was working and joined him in that work.”

Displayed in a room at Reeman CRC are posters filled with photos of things that participants in the program enjoyed doing in the past.

One shows birds that one woman loved to watch, and the poster for Dale Steffen has photos of him with his dogs and of him hunting and fishing.

Louise Steffen said these representations of a life well lived are an example of the kinds of loving touches that help make the program special.

“The people really support and comfort Dale. I know that he can recognize their faces and that he has been very happy coming here,” she said.