It brings me great comfort to see so many familiar friendly faces in the room. Faces of individuals and agencies who have been assisting Helping Hands Respite Care in its effort to provide quality respite within our community for years. I also see many new faces, I welcome you under our respite umbrella – there is more work to do therefore I am very glad for your presence here today.
This year we have chosen to celebrate our successes. I think it is a fitting theme because we have had memorable successes in spite of working through a difficult climate. Over the last year we have experienced 11 deaths. Those who support us know the fragility of our clients, but this was an exceptionally high toll on families and for our staff to overcome this year. It is impossible to do the type of intimate care provided by our agency without getting emotionally invested, but we have chosen to celebrate the life of each and every one of those 11, in small ways each and every day, instead of mourning their loss.
This year has also been financially difficult, not just for us but for many non-profits. Many services have been cut and doors closed because of tightening of federal dollars to support non-profit causes. The constant struggle of trying to do more with less is something we have embraced at Helping Hands Respite Care and in a large part is what I am here to celebrate with you today.
I stood here before you a year ago and shared a vision, and it is from that vision that the successes I share with you today have become reality. The vision included restructuring who we are and how we operate as an agency, specifically through the use of volunteers. While like most visions it did not unfold exactly as planned but the results have far exceeded our expectations.
Kate’s Memory Café, born from this fund raising process, is a free service run by volunteer Katie Donovan and was already in existence when I spoke to you last year. This event takes place on the 2nd Sunday of every month. In the beginning I would join Katie and we would rush around getting the room ready, food prepared, musicians set-up, tables arranged for the guests that were about to share an afternoon with us of food, music, laughter, stories and even occasionally tears.
What has changed since I stood before you here last year? I have only attended one Memory Café session in the last year. Katie has developed a core group of volunteers like Loretta Keaner. Along with a larger group of “occasional” volunteers who have assisted her each and every month in assuring those families who attend have a warm, memorable experience. Volunteers who showed up because over the last year people like Vicki Rakowski, and Barb Zimmerman, shared their expertise in volunteerism to help our agency implement our vision of better service to our clients through improved utilization of volunteers. Vicki and Barb over the last year have created the manual that helps us recruit, train, and retain these volunteers. It is that which has helped Kate’s Memory Café enjoy the successes it has experienced over the last year.
One of our longest running programs is our weekend Respite House, a structure owned by McLaren Greater Lansing and staffed by Helping Hands Respite Care for 25 years. About a year ago McLaren Greater Lansing’s CEO, Tom Mee, came to speak at the East Lansing Rotary, a group to which I happen to belong. I seated myself at Tom’s table and struck up a conversation, three short weeks later I was in his office with Katie Donovan explaining to Tom ways in which we could work together. He called his marketing manager, Brian Brown, into the room. After a few brief conversations Tom had wheels set in motion that included some wonderful financial support to our agency, and an agreement to work with the community in supporting our efforts to update our aging Respite House.
When built, our Respite House had everything you could want in a handicap accessible structure, However that was 25 years ago and my how things have changed. With the help of a Go Fund Me campaign and a financial promise from McLaren we got busy updating. Our Board President-elect Jane Beaudoin and her husband Gary basically lived at the Respite House for a week last August. We changed-out appliances, scraped and painted basement walls, updated flooring, added wall mounted lifts to help with transfers, painted all the walls on the main floor, and completely gutted and rebuilt our bathroom with tiled walls and a zero-entry shower. The bathroom renovation can be attributed to Sam Tucker, another of our hard-working board members. He, his crew, and contractor friends made an absolutely amazing transformation in our bathroom. Our kids were lining up to take a shower, it was that much fun. (thanks Sam). Another board member who couldn’t stay away from the fun was our Board President, Kevin Beard, who showed up like a gunfighter ready for action with his tool belt slung low, he helped assure all our appliances were installed and working properly (thanks Kevin). Jane, our vice-president having seen the deplorable condition of our bedding gathered up her neighbors to help purchase new linens for the four beds at the house and this group of neighbors will forever now be known as the “Ladies of the Sheets.” The Greater Lansing Quilters Guild stepped up with three new quilts for each bed. Our kids love the vibrant colors and intricate patterns. In all, over 40 volunteers have helped in two structured project work groups to help turn our Respite House pumpkin back into a glittering carriage. A monumental task, but one that took on a life of its own and again far exceeded expectations all because of collaborators like McLaren Greater Lansing and a very large group of volunteers secured because of our new volunteer focus.
Our greatest success this year is the implementation of a new business model for Helping Hands that utilizes paid internships in each and every program we offer. The utilization of paid interns ensures quality care is accomplished at a far lower cost than a typical Helping Hands Care provider. The interns come from human service majors at Michigan State University. To date we have paid interns from family studies, social work, kinesiology and psychology. We are working with pre-med, nursing, and neuro-science to expand those available to complete a paid internship. These interns come to us usually as juniors or seniors and are excited about the opportunity to put their newly learned skills to work in a hands-on practical setting. We require each intern to complete our training which, as many of you already know, is the best in the area for those agencies providing respite. These interns must be with us for at least two semesters and their assistance will help stabilize any effect of outside financial influences like changes in minimum wage, because we control and set the stipend the interns receive. In our Beta test that started in January, we received an A grade from the University, mainly because we successfully completed and turned in, all the required paperwork. From the families and the interns themselves we get an A+. Just ask Mary Claire, who will share with us just a snippet of her personal experience as one of our Beta test paid interns.
There it is, the highlights of this year’s greatest successes we wanted to celebrate with you. Kate’s Memory Café,the Respite House face-lift and our new business model that incorporates paid interns. While all three are successes, much work still remains to be done. We have just scratched the surface on what we can do with volunteers. We only have one complete semester under our belts with our paid interns. We will look to you for support to help stabilize and grow these fledgling programs. Once that is accomplished your continued generosity and faith in our ability to provide quality programming and leadership in the area of respite in our local area will help us address our next big challenge. That is, our friends and collaborating agencies are currently knocking on our door and asking us to work with them and to help them in new and exciting endeavors that pertain to respite needs. Your support is the how and why we will be able, as an agency, to continue to make significant progress and with great impact in serving these respite needs.