4 trends in building successful communities of care

By Joe LaGuardia

In a recent joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and RTI International, researchers Erin Long, Sari Shuman, et. al. explored five inter-faith communities that provide care for loved ones suffering with dementia and their caregivers.

Their research, entitled “Faith-Related Programs in Dementia Care, Support, and Education,” summarizes best practices in religious support for families and caregivers and tips on how to build strong, sustainable communities of care.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the research highlights four trends that make for successful communities of care.

1.  Faith adds to well-being.  Faith-based communities provide benefits for dementia care and caregivers.  As our research here at A Tapestry of Love affirms, faith-based communities provide countless benefits to caregivers and their loved ones.  As Long and Shuman, et. al., note, “Studies have shown that spirituality and religious activity may provide relief from anxiety, reduced behavioral disturbances, and improved quality of life for people with dementia” (Long and Shuman, 3).

Yet, they also affirm that religious activity wanes over time because of the declining health of loved ones.  We too, found that to be a problem: The longer a caregiver and her loved one stay home, the fewer cards, visits, and invitations to activities take place over time.

Faith-based communities of care, however, can close the gap for caregivers and their families who need solace, support, and ongoing professionalized care.  Communities can provide, for instance, intentional programs that increase health and wellness, support groups, educational workshops, and spiritual practices that promote faith and discipleship.

Caregivers provide hours of care to loved ones; houses of worship must be intentional to either meet their needs or work with others to help provide support and resources along the journey of faith.

2.   Collaboration promotes sustainable support.  Faith-based communities that collaborate are sustainable and successful in prolonging and providing support.  Those providing support for caregivers and their families–and churches that seek to do the same–cannot go it alone.  Of all five communities in Long and Shuman’s research, each one collaborated with other churches, non-profits, and government agencies for volunteer training, grant and fundraising awareness, space usage, resource allocation, and diversified support.

When it comes to caring for families, churches need to reach out to one another and even other faith groups for support.  In some instances, one church provided space for a program, while other churches in the area provided volunteers.  Local associations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, provided educational resources to train volunteers, and caregivers.

Collaboration also promotes a wider participation from the community, including promotion of events and workshops, as well as little things that make a difference, such as providing transportation for loved ones and their families to get to support groups and the community.  In one instance, a local taxi service provided subsidized transportation to and from the community center.

As resources are few and quality volunteers limited, it is in the best interest that faith-based communities seek collaborative models for caring for all God’s children in their local area.

3.  Space assures sacred and safe interactions.  Another successful aspect of dementia and caregiver care was the devotion to a specific space for support and programming.  Some of the institutions that were a part of the study had stand-alone spaces, while others found sites that provided space.

Whether it is stand-alone or a partnership, having a safe and devoted space for care and support assures safety and sacred interactions.  This is especially important with people with dementia: Routine and predictability promote well-being, and having a space that is familiar allows for people to feel comfortable and welcomed.

Having a devoted space also allows for ongoing education and volunteer training.  Volunteers work within the confines of a manageable area, know all of the resources that are at hand, and value having a meeting place where they can interact with people who need room to grow, be, and live out their calling as caregivers or care receivers.

Stand-alone facilities, though difficult to come by, are optimal for this type of ministry.  The researchers noted that one community, the Amazing Place in Houston, Texas, boasts a 13,700-square foot building that includes a chapel, art studio, game room, kitchen, conference and training rooms, sitting areas, and a courtyard.  This was made possible by a dream from St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston and the church’s willingness to work with non-profits and other faith groups in the area to secure the space, funding, and the 250 volunteers needed to run the full-time effort.

4.  Faith, Collaboration, and Sacred Space enhance creative engagement.  Creative engagement with loved ones emerge when we put faith to work, collaborate with others, and devote a sacred space to care and support others.  Although many communities provide basic services–fellowship meals, chapel services, and support groups–these trends lend themselves to other creative ventures:

  • A writer’s workshop can help dementia patients find creative avenues to tell their story and leave a written legacy for loved ones.
  • A movie or film night with caregivers can promote new ways of seeing their role as caregivers and can encourage intentional conversations about the promises or perils of the caregiving life.
  • Caregiver workshops can provide much-needed resources for self-care, grief support, or caregiver empowerment.
  • Webinars can expand the promotional base of a ministry, as well as provide ongoing education to the community at large.

As communities continue to experience ministry to those suffering from dementia and the caregivers who help serve that most vulnerable population, it will be increasingly important for faith-based support services to reach out in ever creative ways.  Research shows that support services make a difference.  Faith, collaboration, sacred space, and creative engagement only bolster the type of resources that make for a great, well-rounded community of care.


Three keys to writing your 2015 “life story”


By Joe LaGuardia

Every year I set out to keep some much-needed resolutions. These resolutions have to do with change: I’d like to eat less, exercise more, pray without ceasing. Its the usual New Year’s stuff.

Since I rarely keep these resolutions beyond the second or third week, however, I wonder if perhaps I’ve been going about this all wrong. And, if you’ve had trouble keeping your resolutions in years past, maybe you’ve gotten it wrong too.

It’s not that we have to change our life so much as we may have to change the way we see our life. Whenever I’ve changed how I see my life in the past, a change in my behavior, values, and habits followed.

One of the ways is to view life as a story that is slowly unfolding, one in which you can sense a series of beginnings, middles, and endings.

Call them chapters if you will. Each chapter tells a different side of the main character–you!–and when one chapter ends, a new one begins.

So what if you had a bad habit in the past? That chapter has ended, and a new chapter can begin.

Maybe you came out of an abusive relationship. A new year is a good opportunity to write a new chapter beyond the abuse that has shaped your life all too often.

So, with that in mind, here are three keys to consider when writing your new 2015 story.

1. Your story is what God says it is, not what others say it is. God has created you in God’s own image and you are a child of God. Don’t let others tell you how your story should either unfold or end.

If you were to write your story this year with your Heavenly Father in mind, how would it be different? What authenticity and vulnerability might empower you to change for the better?

2. God has a purpose for your life, so your story should have a purpose too.

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that didn’t have a purpose? A story with no purpose has no direction; it just stumbles along.

I know that we stumble along in life sometimes. We lose a job or our hearts get broken, and we can only go from day to day like a person meandering in the dark.

But some seasons in life are like that; and yet, overall, our story has a purpose because God has a purpose for us.

The Bible labels this purpose a “call” that God gives us. We are all called to be a part of God’s story, and by joining God, God writes our stories too.

The second letter of Peter says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

3. Your story won’t be complete without recognizing how others play a part in it.

On the internet, you will find what are called “internet trolls.” These are people who go from status update to status update. blog to blog, article to article, and post to post to criticize, leave negative feedback, and simply publish bad advice or mean comments in general.

Trolls have encouraged more than one suicide, and they are ruthless in their backbiting and baiting.

These are not people that make up your story or should be a part of your story.

Characters that are a part of your story should be positive and help you fulfill God’s purpose in your life.

I recommend building a circle of friends made up of mentors, cheerleaders, teachers, and friends that make for an effective support system. Do not neglect this part of your story, and distance yourself from the trolls in your life.

As you look forward to the new year ahead, I hope that you will put an imaginary pen to paper and write something new. I hope that it will be God-inspired and that you will be the very person God has made you to be, for without God, your words will be fleeting and ever failing.

The Bachelor’s “Love” Conundrum

bachelorThe talk of the nation seems to be focusing on the season finale of The Bachelor that last week.

The Bachelor is a reality show in which a bachelor spends two months with a few dozen female contestants.  He eliminates each one until he’s left with the lucky gal he hopes to marry.

Ridiculous, I know–but very addictive.

This particular finale was a whopper.  Although the bachelor found Miss Probably-Right, he refused to offer either an engagement ring (the highlight of every finale!) and a heart-warming, “I love you.”

The show’s host spent ten minutes trying to get the bachelor to say those three simple words.  It was clear that the winning damsel in distress loves him; why couldn’t he say the same about her?

My wife and I thought he was actually being smart in the situation.  He cared enough for her–and the wishes of her father–to take things slow.  In a previous era, that kind of sentiment was called chivalry.

That wasn’t good enough for the studio audience, who apparently forgot that, of the previous 12 seasons of the show, only 3 bachelors got married.  The rest broke up in less than a year.

With statistics like that, I would take things slow too.

Perhaps the real victim of this show was not the lovely lady.  Nor was it the one who’s wife refused to turn the channel to see what better shows were on.  The real victim of all this is our notion of love.

Have we as a society become so shallow and so driven by sensuality that we think we can find love on a reality show?

I bet that if you surveyed 100 people, a majority of them would not opt to find love on television.

Its the parade of the few that makes a parody of us all.   Do we ever get love right?

Throughout the Bible, God repeatedly tries to convince the people of Israel that He loves them with a compassionate, “everlasting love.”  It is a type of self-sacrificial love that is not as fleeting as the emotional type of love we sometimes mistake for the real thing.

God loved us so much that God became human for our behalf.  In the person of Jesus, God bridged heaven and earth, suffered, died, and lived in flesh-and-blood just to prove how much love He has for us.

The first epistle of John, often called a love letter to the church, says this about love:

“We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3:16).

Have you ever sat by the bedside of your care-receiver in her most dire moment and find it difficult to “know” what she is going through?  We try to be a comforting caregiver, but we really find it difficult to relate to the situations in which some people find themselves.

God loves us so much, that God was willing to “know” what we all go through by entering into this fragile, human state along with us.  God was willing to sacrifice everything just to prove this love for us.

God walks with us because God “knows” exactly what we and our care receivers are going through.  That’s love!

In response, we are called not to continue in the charade that is covetous love. We do not need to search for love from some model-quality companion; we just need to take God at God’s word.

We are also called to follow God’s example and put love into action for the sake of others.  We are, as John states, to “love in truth and action” (3:18).

Perhaps this is the logic of this season’s bachelor.  I hope that he is refraining from saying those “I love You” because he knows that they are not as meaningful as the action of love.  Well, we can only hope.