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Faith in Action providing a helping hand when needed

Helen moved from her home of 45 years into a second floor apartment in a building with no elevator. It was quickly clear that hauling bags of groceries up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway would be too difficult for her. In addition, she was no longer comfortable with driving across town to the grocery store. Alice, who had lived in the same home for decades, was having problems with some housekeeping chores, like vacuuming and sweeping the floor. Both women, from St. Cloud, were able to get the assistance which they needed in order to remain independent from Great River Area Faith In Action.  Faith in Action is a nondenominational faith-based program which serves people in difficult life situations.  It helps individuals to have a better quality of life and to maintain their independence.     Volunteers with Faith in Action provide non-medical assistance to persons who need those services which include: transportation to the grocery store or to a medical appointment, help with shopping or bill-paying, minor home repairs, a friendly visit or telephone support and respite for a family caregiver. People are living longer today and most older adults look forward to more years of healthy living after retirement than in the past. Most also believe that the best place to live is in their own home.  In 2011, the U.S. Census estimated there were 41.4 million persons aged 65 and older in the nation, which is 13% of the population. It is expected that by 2030, that number will increase to more than 72 million, or 20% of the population. Faith in Action was started in 1983 with grant monies from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. There are now more than 600 Faith in Action programs in communities throughout the United States. Cherise Robb is a volunteer coordinator for Great River Area Faith in Action program, which serves the greater St. Cloud area–St. Cloud, Waite Park, Sartell and Sauk Rapids.  Great River Area’s main office is in Becker and the program serves people from Elk River to Sartell. “Our motto is – strengthening communities one caring relationship at a time,” said Robb. “We are a Christian ministry sent to serve the Lord in what we do. That is the cornerstone of the program. We serve elderly people, people with disabilities, caregivers. If someone has a need that’s outside of our scope, we will try to help.” Faith in Action gets referrals from County social services and home care agencies. Individuals and family members may also call directly to request assistance. The Live Well at Home program is one component of their services, according to Robb. A professional will meet with an individual and do a home assessment. He or she will look at some of the risks which could result in that person leaving their home permanently. Those risks are: * needing help with health and personal care * falling and getting hurt * not having family or a friend to help out * thinking of moving in order to get help * living alone * feeling forgetful After evaluating the risks, they look for resources and the kinds of assistance which can help the individual stay in his or her home for as long as possible. A volunteer through Faith in Action could be the answer for a high-risk individual. Another component of their program is caregiver support. Caregiver coaches  provide training and ongoing support to caregivers. Robb hopes to develop caregiver support groups in the St. Cloud area. Volunteers who provide respite services don’t do any physical care but they can spend 3-4 hours visiting a care receiver, playing cards or games or looking through photo albums together. Robb works with about 65 volunteers. “You want someone who loves people and who is willing to commit to volunteering,” she said. “I have amazing volunteers. Some drive from South Haven, Kimball, Freeport.” Ramona Muller of St. Cloud has volunteered with Faith in Action for nearly 10 years. Muller was an LPN at St. Cloud Hospital for 26 years before retiring in 1993. “Caregiving is one of the things I know how to do,” she said. “It just came naturally. It’s my gift from God.” After the sudden death of her husband two days before 9-11, Muller said she was overwhelmed by grief. Months later, someone from her church mentioned getting involved with Faith in Action and she said she knew she was ready for something. “Volunteering gave me structure to my life and to my weeks. It gave me a purpose.” She has worked with many people over the years and has done everything from providing transportation to the clinic to grocery shopping and housekeeping to being a companion. Muller described a wonderful experience of knowing and volunteering with a woman who eventually developed Alzheimer’s. “She was a delightful lady. She liked to quilt and walk to the park. We used to walk two blocks to the park and look at the flowers. After awhile, she got anxious because she didn’t know where she was so we would stay in the yard and talk about the birds and flowers and trees.” Her decline was gradual and Muller remained her companion until her admission to St. Benedict’s nursing facility. In the past, Faith in Action’s funding came primarily from grants and donations but the Council on Aging has recently mandated that they begin a cost-sharing system in order to stay solvent. Robb said, “There is a lot of pressure on nonprofits. We need to be self-sustaining.” Last year, Great River Area Faith in Action served 1,000 households and 2,000 people. It is hoped that care receivers will contribute to the cost of the program but Robb stressed that nobody is ever refused services for not making a contribution.  They send out monthly statements of the services provided to each individual. Robb said the suggested donation is very reasonable—a round trip ride is $5, for example. Her goal is to build connections with area churches and to work through their  volunteers to expand the program. They had success recently setting up an adoptive grandparent program at Living Waters Lutheran Church in Sauk Rapids. Junior high students were divided into small groups and matched with an older adult who they visited on a regular basis. Other youth were assigned to a service project which might involve yardwork or painting. For more information on volunteering with Faith in Action, contact Cherise Robb at 320-258-8678.

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