Telaina Eriksen: Can you give me a little bit of the history behind Helping Hands and its place in the East Lansing Community?
John Stauffer (Helping Hands Respite Care Executive Director): Yes, of course. Our agency actually has its origins from two unique groups. There was a group of nurses way back in the mid-80s who recognized the need for adult day services in the East Lansing area, so they put their heads together and formulated what came to be known as ALFA (Active Living for Adults). Over the years, adult day centers have never been required to be licensed in the state of Michigan so there truly was no need to have a nurse on staff at the East Lansing Adult Day Center but ALFA always had a nurse. They checked blood sugar and blood pressure levels, paid attention to how each participant was feeling that day, and depending on the responses from the participants, the nurse would inform the family or doctor of any issues or concerns. Most of the day the participants were busy with a structured program of exercise, mental challenges, music, games, cards, crafts, meals and snacks.
At the same time the nurses were creating ALFA, some parents in Lansing with children with disabilities were trying to form a non-profit to assist them with their respite needs (respite in its shortest definition is “a short break”). These families were desperate for time off from the 24/7 requirements of taking care of their children with severe disabilities. The families were finally successful in acquiring a federal grant for $350,000 so they could hire a director, but it took over three years to accomplish this. In the interim, the parents helped each other out. One family would watch another child so that a mom and dad could attend a parent-teacher conference together. Then on Saturday, the parents who got to attend the parent-teacher conference together would watch another family’s child so that family could attend a soccer game for their daughter who was not a wheel chair user. Because of this sharing of responsibilities, they named themselves Lansing Area Parents’ Respite Center. This was shortened over the years to just LAP.
About 2 ½ years ago the ALFA program which had been run by the city for the last ten years, was in financial difficulties. The city had come to a conclusion it was not in their or the program’s best interest to be responsible for an adult day care program. The city was in a quandary though because the program had become very popular to the East Lansing community and they did not want to have to close it. The city became aware of LAP through some advertising I was doing as the new executive director. We met and over a period of about six months hammered out a contract that turned over the responsibilities of running the adult day center to LAP. The program has done very well under LAP – it realized a profit for the first time in ten years the first year that LAP was in control. The membership has grown, and LAP has done as it had committed to the city in the beginning--to maintain the integrity of the processes of the program, much as it had run under the leadership of the city.
We chose to change our name in December 2014 because of the confusion of the merging of the two entities. Now there is no LAP, there is no ALFA, just Helping Hands Respite Care.
TE: How many families does Helping Hands Respite Care serve in a given month or year?
JS: Telaina, last year our agency served 111 families over six unique programs. Most of our programs supply 12,000 to 20,000 hours of respite to the families they serve a year. Our Adult Day Services is one of our larger programs supplying just over 20,000 hours of respite care annually.
TE: What services does Helping Hands offer?
JS: Our six respite programs are as follows:
- Adult Day Services Program – The participants get mental and physical stimulation in a safe and nurturing environment. We take care of nutritional and health needs while the participant is in our care. The day consists of structured activities aimed at enhancing the quality of their day. Everything from pet therapy to chair tai chi.
- Respite House – Probably our most popular program. Families with children with disabilities are able to drop their loved one off on Friday afternoon, and our staff cares for them until Sunday afternoon when we reunite them with their parents refreshed from a weekend of no medications, feeding, or bathing schedules.
- After School Program for children with special needs--Great program that allows a family member to stay at work until 5:00 and swing by the grocery store or dry cleaners before they have to pick up their child.
- In-Home care for children with special needs--Our highly trained care providers spend time in family’s homes to allow the primary care giver (usually mom or dad) time off from the daily responsibilities of caring for their child. Our care providers are responsible for everything from medication management, to tube feedings, to bathing and toileting, feeding and even social immersion--taking the child out to the park or mall to be around other kids.
- In-Home Care for Adults – This covers a wide range of needs--anything from someone with cerebral palsy, to traumatic brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s, dementia, etc. Our care providers are trained to handle everything listed above and much more, but quite often the most important part of their service is just showing up and being a trusted friend.
- Summer Program Camp PA-WA-PI in Williamston--Our agency has teamed up the last three summers with the Parkwood YMCA to have our kids with special needs attend the PA-WA-PI day camp. As far as I know this is the only place where children like ours who fall on the autism spectrum are able to be mainstreamed into a camp program. Our kids run and play and compete just like every other child attending. It has worked exceptionally well.
TE: How is payment handled? Is it based on income or does Helping Hands receive grants?
JS: As far as payment goes there are several options. Many people pay out of pocket (private pay) for these different services. Our largest client is Community Mental Health. We have four contracts with CMH and they provide the dollars for much of the care given to our children. As for the adults, we have two contracts with Tri-County Office on Aging and one with the Veterans Administration. So depending on whether you are a veteran, or have financial limitations, we would help decide what program or if you were qualified for some level of assistance.
TE: What does Helping Hands have planned in the near future?
JS: In the immediate future we are looking for a bigger home to allow for more programming and possible integration of programming between our seniors and our youth. We have loved the relationship with the City of East Lansing and Michigan State since our move here 2 ½ years ago, so if at all possible it is our hope to relocate within the East Lansing area. We also have started a new campaign aimed towards helping us no longer be “The Best Kept Secret in Town” It is called “A Walk Beyond the Barriers” and is sponsored this year by the Sinas Dramis Law Firm. It is a one-hour event that takes place twice a day at 8:30 and 11:30 every other Wednesday – the next few dates are Feb 4th, Feb 18th, March 4th and March 18th. It is open to the public but we would like to know they are coming so we have enough fresh brewed coffee and Sweetie-licious pie and we serve it to those who attend the event. It is a jam-packed hour of letting the public know of the services we provide through personal stories.
Helping Hands Respite Care is also participating in the Big Bang-Quet promotion put on by the University Club and sponsored by MSUFCU and The Capital Region Community Foundation. This is a fund-raising (and friend-raising) event for area nonprofits. We are encouraging people to vote for us between Feb 9 and Mar 24 at www.universityclubofmsu.org/theclubwithaheart. Each vote is $5 and helps us identify interested people who wish to know more about our organization and its mission.
Down the road, after our interim move, we are looking for a campus. We would like to add an additional respite house for kids and a new respite house for seniors to allow spouses to have a weekend off from care. We would like a space large enough to bring all our programming under one roof – we would be looking for something in the area of 40,000 square feet of facility to accomplish all our needs. But that is a few years down the road.
TE: Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges these families face, for those who may not know the effort it takes to parent or care for someone with a disability or chronic or terminal illness?
JS: This is the hard question. Think about what it would be like to have a loved one that is unable to communicate verbally with you. This is true of many of our kids and adults we serve. How is it even possible for a parent or a spouse to allow a stranger to come into their home, or drop their loved one off at a strange building and have someone they don’t know be responsible for them? What a terrifying thought. Your loved one can’t tell you if they liked the care they got or not, they can’t tell you if the people were nice, if they ignored them, were mean to them, or if they nurtured, cared for and respected them. Until you have to do something that hard it is truly hard to make another understand. It takes a huge amount of trust. That is why we go to such great lengths in our training program, to make sure all of our care providers understand the value of trust, the importance of trust, and the need to show each individual they come in contact with the dignity and respect they deserve – both to the primary care provider, the person they are caring for, and all other members of the family.
Something as simple as a snow day like East Lansing schools had today can throw a family with a loved one with special needs into crisis mode. The respite care provider who was scheduled to see their son is supposed to be there right after school at 3:00 – but since school was canceled the parent is caught having to find a care provider able to come in and spend the entire day with their son, not just the afternoon. Short of accomplishing that task one of the parents may have to stay home from work to care for their child.
TE: How can community members get involved?
JS: Telaina, they can get involved in so many different ways. We use volunteers at both our Adult Day Program and our after school program. So if someone has a volunteer heart they can help in that manner. We just had this big name change and people are still trying to figure out who we are. They can choose to visit us at our website www.HelpingHandsRespite.Care where they can learn in detail about our programs and how they can help. They could do something as simple as when they are on Facebook, typing Helping Hands Respite Care into the task/search bar and “Liking us” on Facebook. We have great stories and information on our Facebook page that is of interest to all members of the community. Of course we would love it if they would attend “A Walk Beyond the Barriers” where they will get an up close and personal look at who we are as an agency through the use of story-telling. To make a reservation for that event simply call Helping Hands respite care at 517-372-6671 and tell the receptionist you would like to attend “A Walk Beyond the Barriers.” Also we are always, and I mean always looking for more care providers. You bring the heart and compassion, we will train you to do the rest.