Deacon Jerry Jacob outside Grace Episcopal’s Parish Hall, where Grace Place will meet / W.C. Mann
(A victim of dementia) is a child of God, still has a soul, still matters, and ought to matter to other people . . . They’re no less a person, just because they don’t have the memory they used to have. These folks aren’t monsters, by any stretch of the imagination. But for the grace of God, we could be there, too.”Deacon Jerry Jacob
CULLMAN – Grace Episcopal Church is preparing to offer a ministry especially for victims of forms of dementia. On Tuesday, Jan. 2, the church will begin Grace Place, which will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Parish Hall at 305 Arnold St. NE, for what it describes as “four hours of mental, physical, social and spiritual stimulation for people with mild to moderate memory loss.”
The Tribune contacted Grace Episcopal’s Deacon Jerry Jacob for more information about the program.
Where did you get the idea for Grace Place?
“Jay Jones, a member of Grace Episcopal Cullman, works for a home health company in Birmingham. Part of his job is offering training in dementia for social workers, nurses, hospital discharge staff, etc. He had a session at Canterbury United Methodist in Mountain Brook and met the director of their mature adults programs, Valerie Boyd. She introduced him to Respite, their version of this program that is also based on the first program of its kind at the Methodist Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, begun in 2004.”
Jones returned to Grace Episcopal and approached Jacob and Senior Warden Donnie Moyer, who began looking into the work of similar existing ministries in Birmingham and Montgomery. Earlier this year, the church decided to proceed with the project, naming Jacob as the interim director until two permanent staffers can be hired.
What programs and services will the ministry offer?
“Each twice-a-week session will consist of four hours of stimulation for body, mind, spirit and socialization. Each participant, a person with mild to moderate memory loss, will be paired with a volunteer throughout the session. A hot, nutritious lunch will be catered in by the Red Door Café. Experienced volunteer exercise leaders, who have worked with seniors, will conduct the morning chair exercise sessions. We are looking for people skilled in arts and/or crafts who can lead those sessions. We will be asking organizations with pre-school day care programs if they would allow some of their children to visit and interact with our folks. And, we hope to find someone with a therapy animal who might visit.”
Regular meetings will include: table activities such as puzzles, word games, bingo, reminiscences; singing both secular songs popular during the clients’ youth, and hymns; lunch; and exercise activities.
Each meeting will also feature celebrations based on established holidays like New Year’s Day and Mardi Gras, and some more fun like National Fig Newton Day. Each quarter, clients and volunteers will take part in a community service activity as well, such as writing cards of thanks and encouragement to local charities.
Who will be involved with Grace Place?
“Churches that have expressed serious interest include Cullman Church of Christ, St. John’s E.P. Church, Christ Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church. The Cullman Rotary Club has expressed interest and we look forward to working with them. United Way of Cullman provided assistance. We have an advisory board made up of volunteers: Wesley Harding, Jay Jones, Lori McGrath, Amy Speegle and Kathy Yoho, who will bring what the public is saying about the program, both good and bad, and help us find ways to make improvements. We will also ask caregivers and families of participants to give us regular feedback on how the program works for them and their loved one.”
Caregivers will not be expected to accompany their patients to all Grace Place functions, but will be welcomed and encouraged to attend from time to time, to see for themselves what is happening.
How do interested parties get information or get people enrolled?
“They can call Grace Place at 256-736-4260. We will invite them to come for an interview to learn details about the program. Those will be taking place every Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 12 noon through Dec. 21. We are not asking for caregivers or families to enroll their loved ones before they both have a chance to participate in a session. The first session will be provided, then they can see for themselves how it works and if it might be right for their situation. Volunteers will attend a training session prior to the first program day to learn how best to work with people with memory loss. They also should call 256-736-4260 to schedule an interview.”
Participants in the program will be dementia patients with mild to moderate memory loss who can still move about on their own (even if a walker or wheelchair is required), feed themselves, and tend to their own restroom needs.
Participation in Grace Place will cost $30 per day, including lunch and all activities. With sitters routinely charging $12 to $15 per hour, Jacob believes the program’s fee for four-hour meetings is a bargain. He also wants to be sure caregivers and families understand that no client will be turned away due to an inability to pay.
“If they can’t afford it,” said Jacob, “we’re going to take the person anyway. This is not a money-making deal.”
Clients and their caregivers can decide how often they will participate in the program. No minimum number of sessions is currently required.
For caregivers of dementia patients
Grace Episcopal is already home to The Caring Support Group, which helps caregivers of memory loss victims provide each other with mutual support, encouragement and understanding fellowship. This group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Arnold House at 305 Arnold St. NE.
The final word
Jacob said that a victim of dementia “is a child of God, still has a soul, still matters, and ought to matter to other people . . . They’re no less a person, just because they don’t have the memory they used to have. These folks aren’t monsters, by any stretch of the imagination. But for the grace of God, we could be there, too.”
For more information about Grace Place, call 256-736-4260 or email Jacob at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the caregivers’ support group, call Jones at 205-914-1289.
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