Breaking Barriers Today – Summer Plans

We are gearing up for a busy summer filled with activities at BBT. We have a great team of helping interns and volunteers ready to help a teen or young adult get the most out of summer packed with new activities and special field trips. Learn More or email BBT Supervisor – Kathryn Green.

Because the Breaking Barriers Today program is located at the Gier Community Center we have the ability to take advantage of not only a tremendous facility which gives us lots of room to get active, but also to participate in programs and outings planned by the City Parks and Recreation Director. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to merge our program participants into programs which may include neuro-typical children. Ask your case manager how your child can participate and whether the care plan could be expanded to include time at the Breaking Barriers Today program.

So often we see teens or young adults with a disability languishing in front of a television or feeling a growing sense of isolation. What a difference we can make in their day by having the access and resources to clear a path for them to experience exciting new things.

We have a team of soon-to-graduate Occupational Therapists from Baker Community College who have pledge a significant amount of time to the Breaking Barriers program this summer. More volunteers are also committing time to make participating in a special outing or event a reality.

If you know someone that is searching for something meaningful to do this summer, we would be pleased to have them participate as a volunteer at Breaking Barriers Today. The application process is straightforward and easy to complete. Download a volunteer packet today!

Message from Executive Director

A Message from Executive Director John Stauffer to the Families We Serve, Friends, and Supporters of Helping Hands Respite Care


Some of you may be aware that Helping Hands Respite Care has recently issued a report on our progress over the past year. This report was presented at our recent Annual Fund Raising Breakfast. The report is called Rising to Challenges and is available to be picked up at our Administrative Offices and will be available for distribution at any of our upcoming events. The essence of the report includes descriptions of challenges and opportunities we identified last year and how we responded to them; and then goes on to describe current and on-going challenges especially those related to our ability to deliver continuity of care by creating a competitive wage strategy for our direct care workers. It also quantifies and forecasts some new challenges rising.

These challenges and opportunities reflect both the conditions in our own marketplace and the needs that our families (and some families we haven’t met yet) have for enhanced or different levels of care. We are aware that some families and supporters might wonder why we would pursue new opportunities when we cannot fill all of the available direct care positions. This is a valid question, but from my perspective we simply cannot afford to ignore needs for direct care and the respite it delivers to families. In marketing vernacular we are not creating new markets, we are meeting an existing market need.

The clarification and promise that I want all of the families we serve to know is that our mission to solve the wage/employee and continuity of care challenge for families has not wavered, but it is a problem which is bigger than just one agency. We will continue to think about and respond to that challenge with a creative spirit and a hopeful demeanor that there will also be broad solutions coming from federal and state actions. That being said, I want these families to know that as we pursue some new opportunities, such as the one described in the May newsletter by Jeff Nunham, our absolute commitment is to NOT do anything to take care workers away from existing homes/families.

Recently I attended a meeting at Tri County Office on Aging where the Michigan office of the Public Health Institute presented a report on the results of a survey by the Partnership for Fair Caregiver Wages. (a scanned copy of the report can be found here) I have to confess that I was a bit shocked to learn about this organization and the work that it does. And I mean shocked in a good way – it was such a confirmation to know that our little nonprofit is not alone in the battle to attract and retain quality employees as direct care workers. For a few years MPHI has been leading the charge to gather data and advocate for some short-term and long-term changes in the broad and growing industry of businesses who have chosen to do the important work of caring for our most vulnerable citizens in Michigan, those with disabilities who need daily support and care.

The report describes the unintended impact of the increasing minimum wage. The direct care support market is not keeping pace with the minimum wage increases and a consequence to this labor market is that the direct care workers taking on the very challenging work of care are not attracted to this work because there are less difficult and better paying jobs in the retail and food service sectors. The report goes on to describe the high turn-over rates and increasing number of unfilled direct care worker positions has reached crisis level proportions.

My pledge to you is to keep you posted on any new developments coming from MPHI and the Michigan legislature on these important issues. There may be a time when you may be called on to make your voice heard. Until then, I am honored to serve all of the families who come our way at Helping Hands Respite Care, and to continue to provide leadership for the Michigan Adult Day Services Association (MADSA); and to work hard every day to maintain our commitment to Care for Those Caring for Others.


John Stauffer

Executive Director
Helping Hands Respite Care


President of Board of Directors
Michigan Adult Day Services Association

Tri-County Office on Aging – Financial Assistance to Serve More Seniors

New Rate Structure for Adult Day Services. Picture of members playing a game of bingo.

In an effort to serve more seniors we are using the help of the Tri-County Office on Aging to help families cover the cost of care at the Adult Day Services program.

Are you caring for a senior at home? Or do you know a friend, relative or neighbor in a similar position? Whether this is your spouse, parent, or sibling you know the heartbreak of seeing your loved one declining. Every day is precious and yet you find yourself losing steam and are challenged to consistently provide an enriching and engaging environment.

Helping Hands Respite Care provides a robust Adult Day Services (ADS) senior activity program Monday – Friday. The families participating report that their loved ones come home at the end of the day feeling good because they have enjoyed a full day of planned activities, good food and social interaction.

The ADS program is real respite care because it maintains a consistently low ratio of caregivers to participants plus has an on-sight nurse and caregivers with comprehensive training. This means you can relax knowing your loved one is in good hands. Choosing a trustworthy option for care is the first step to improving your quality of life and also for the one in your care.

Financial Support to Serve More Seniors 

If finances are stopping you from exploring this as an option you should know that Helping Hands has a grant from the Tri County Office on Aging which may cover all or part of the costs to attend. The requirements to qualify are easy. Grants cover daily fees, meals, and transportation and range from 100% to 20% OFF. To learn more about qualifying for this financial support download this worksheet.

The best part of the qualifying process for most families is that the costs of household (rent, mortgage, and even maintenance) and transportation costs are deducted from the monthly income qualification. This significantly improves the likelihood of qualifying for financial support for the Adult Day Services program.

Call now to schedule a LEARN MORE visit and experience, 517-372-6671 ext 107 Alison Sarkozy program supervisor. Or email:

Realizing The Value of Saying Yes

One of the reasons I enjoy working with Helping Hands Respite Care is because our director, John Stauffer is a “see the need and try to meet it” kind of man. He knows the value of saying yes. He has this interesting combination of a great heart of compassion and the American Entrepreneurial Spirit. As a director, I see John lead with his heart much of the time, though he is sometimes painfully aware of the pennies and the “bottom line”. (Just ask him sometime about our Adult Day Service coffee pot situation). He recently spoke about the difference between For Profit and Not For Profit Care Agencies. He said, “the For Profit Agency cares for people in order to make money, while we, the Not For Profit Agency must make money so that we can care for people. I love the orientation of this observation. We are a Person Centered agency who strives to earn money so that we can provide respite for families who care for a loved one with a disability.


Discovering the Value of Saying Yes

This was recently illustrated in a way that has made a deep impression on me. At one of our “Walk Beyond the Barriers” information sessions this past winter, we hosted a couple who live more than an hour from East Lansing. They come to East Lansing at least once a week to deliver enough home cooked meals to keep their son nourished for a week. Their son, who I will call Jim, lives independently near campus, but he doesn’t cook. They had not had a vacation in years and were desperately trying to find an agency who could stop by Jim’s apartment and check on him for a few minutes while they were out of state. Though this is not the typical service we provide, leading with his heart, John said, “Yes, I think we can do that for you.”

Let me tell you about our new friend, I will call him Jim. Jim works on campus about 30 hours a week. He walks to his job, does his work and goes home to his apartment. His social interaction is primarily his work. He lives alone. Jim loves MSU sports; actually, he loves all sports. He has season tickets to Spartan Basketball, loves to play golf, and shoot baskets. He keeps his apartment immaculate. He is tall, lean and very athletic for a 42 year old man. He is a very kind and gentle man, who when you meet him, you feel like you want to spend as much time as possible with him. The reason? He listens like he really cares. He is very quick to smile and his eyes express warmth and acceptance. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with someone like Jim? The only challenge in spending time with this wonderful man is his disability. Jim has Cerebral Palsy. It has robbed him of the ability to speak clearly. This makes being with people very difficult. The result is isolation. Isolation means never feeling comfortable going to the store, restaurant or the bank without his parent. More than this, his disability has robbed his community of meeting and interacting with a very interesting and engaging man.

Recently, Jim and his mother and I met to talk about ways that Helping Hands Respite Care could help Jim expand his world. We discussed Jim’s invitation for us to come alongside him and teach him some of the daily activities that he has never ventured to learn. We are going to journey with Jim. We will explore the amazing (often extremely frustrating) world of the computer. We will be learning about shopping, going to the bank and any other activity Jim wants to do. Wow, what a joy this will be for Jim and our care provider.

Once again, I see the wisdom of meeting needs as the first priority of our Not For Profit Agency over all other possible first priorities. Thanks John for leading with your heart. The wonderful gift this gives, is the opportunity to serve an amazing man like Jim. This is why we’re here; and this is what we do.

Postscript from Executive Director, John Stauffer.

Free Tickets to Pancakes in the Park

Stack of pancakes for Pancakes in the Park Free Tickets for Pancakes


We Families at Pancakes in the Park have Free Tickets for Pancakes in the Park. Mark your calendar 8am to 1pm on June 12th – the East Lansing Rotary Club is making Pancakes in the Park!  If you are a family we serve at Helping Hands Respite Care, you will be our guest to have breakfast FREE, compliments of Rotarians who work at or support Helping Hands.

All you need to do is let us know how many tickets you want and whether you want them set aside for pick-up or to be dropped in the mail before June 6th. The pancake breakfast includes pancakes, sausage, grilled apple slices, juice, and coffee.  Come and enjoy breakfast, rain or shine, at Patriarche Park in East Lansing, June 12th from 8am to 1pm.  The new play space at Patriarche Park is funded through the efforts of the East Lansing Rotary Club and is handicap accessible, so plan on staying a while to have some fun in the park.

The Story of our Fund Raiser

As told by Jeff Nunham, Supervisor – Adult In-Home Care

Have you ever attended a Fund Raiser event where the food is actually delicious and the speakers are riveting? As fundraising events go, they can be all of that, but in my experience they tend to be a moment of emotion with little substance that rises like steam and quickly dissipates into the air. On the 27 of April, we hosted our annual Helping Hearts Giving Society Fund Raiser Breakfast, themed Rising to Challenges, and it was, in my experience, a meeting I will remember for a long, long time. What I saw, heard and felt will stay with me because it will encourage me to work with greater purpose and passion. I would like to share my take on two of the several excellent talks we heard.

The room was full. The food was good. But the speakers were extraordinary. As I sat listening to them, I was moved. The reason? All of them spoke with deep emotion and transparency. Each speaker’s life has been deeply influenced by someone with a disability.

Aunt Michelle explained the tragic story of her sister’s life and sudden death and how her two nephews, Josh and JC came to live with her. Her sister made poor choices. The life she offered her two sons was….difficult to say the least. Josh and JC, her teenaged boys are on the Autism Spectrum with Fragile X Syndrome. When mom suddenly died, the two orphaned boys were about to become wards of the state. Michelle and her husband were newly “empty nesters” when Community Mental Health called to explain the situation. Michelle said yes, Josh and JC, with all their special needs, could come to live with her.

As her story unfolded, I could sense a collective groan sweeping the room. Would I have said yes? I felt a deep surge of emotion as Michelle described her love for these two young men. Her words took us into their living room as she described the way they watch TV together. JC looks at the TV and then back at her and then the TV and back at her. This goes on and on and on, until she turns to look at him and smile. Aunt Michelle is their life. She has given them a life of love and stability, something they had never had before. In her words, she could do this because of the help she received through Respite Care services. I felt gratitude to be a part of an organization that supports families who, through love, are providing care for a child or adult with a disability.

About the time Josh and JC came to live with her, Michelle determined to return to college to get her Bachelor’s degree. Again, we sat in wonder as we thought about all that she overcame in order to achieve this tremendous goal. Last fall, while the boys were at our Respite House, she walked across the stage at Spring Arbor University and was awarded her Bachelor of Social Work degree. We had a hand in that moment. It wasn’t huge, but it was significant. Her words, richly validated the reason we were in the room and being asked to contribute to an organization that supports dreams and the dear people who have them.


Special Guest at Fund Raiser – Lt. Governor Brian Calley


Another talk was given by a special guest. The Lieutenant Governor of the State of Michigan, Brian Calley accepted our invitation to speak. As the Lt. Governor began to talk, he moved away from the podium toward the seated guests. I wondered if he was able to talk, not as a politician, but as a father of a child with Autism. That is exactly what he did. Brian spoke like a dad who loves his daughter. He spoke like a husband, who with his wife provide love and nurture for a child whose world is very different than most children. His talk was not what you would expect to hear from a high official of our state. His words were gentle, sensitive and obviously heart felt. He spoke of his struggle in his own household. About taking his child out in public, getting stares and scolding looks as if to say, “Why can’t you get your child under control.” He shared with us the constant challenge he and his wife Julie face, fighting the temptation to withdraw from everyday routine activities and relationships. Isolation, he said, is a constant threat. As a couple, they have great concerns about being able to trust the people who offer help. The temptation is to never ask, then adjust your life routines until no one comes over; you never go out; you huddle together as a family, alone. Brian wanted everyone in the room to know that this is what it can be, but does not have to be. His words were powerful.

Everyone was touched. We all heard how vital Respite is. We all understood how difficult, but important it is to trust someone to care for your child. We all knew that marriages and sometimes life itself is depends upon Respite. As John Stauffer our executive director says, “Respite is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” We all got it.



As Helping Hands board member, Sam Tucker took the podium, he knew that his responsibility was to ask the crowd to open their hearts and wallets to support this vital, life necessity. He struggled to do this. Not for fear that he might not choose just the right words to make a compelling “pitch.” But his struggle was the emotion welling up inside him as he tried to speak of his experience caring for his and his wife’s parents in their last years. They didn’t know about Respite Care services. They struggled as all people eventually do. The impact of this upon Sam led him to establish a business which focuses on the construction needs of the family who are caring for a loved one at home.

When the breakfast was finished and all the guests were gone, we gathered our things and left. We reassembled back at the office and began opening the envelopes into which the guests had placed their gifts and pledges. There was an air of excitement and wonderment. What had we just experienced? For me, I felt like I had witnessed something very special. Aside from the fact that we had nearly twice the number of guests than we had last year, I felt like our Helping Hearts Giving Society which was birthed last year, stood up and took a “first step.” We are the Helping Hands Respite -Helping Hearts Giving Society and we are making a difference in the lives of families. Together, we unite our hearts and hands to prove the power of respite.