Along with lay spiritual care programs, congregations often have care team volunteers who offer practical help to members and friends. Here are some examples of programs that have been offered by the River Road Care Team:
A simple, easy program, but much appreciated, is to send cards to all members on their birthday, anniversary, birth, death, or illness. Cards can also be sent for special occasions graduations, publishing a book, or receiving an award. We send cards for joys shared during the Sunday service. We are beginning to collect a data base for significant birthdays (80) and anniversaries (50+) and weddings, funerals, and baby dedications done by our minister.
Cards are hand written and have a picture of our church on the front. We hope to have special cards printed with the logo of the Pastoral Care Team within the year. We currently send out 3-4 cards a week, but we clearly could do a lot more.
Meals and Transportation Program
Most people really appreciate a few meals at the time of an illness, birth, or death. In a small church the Pastoral Care Team might do them, but in a larger church, like ours, we contact the Neighborhood Care Teams. Another method would have a few select people do just meals which is a system we used before we reactivated our Neighborhoods. For long term needs of daily meals, we use Meals on Wheels or other community agencies.
Transportation is harder to provide because of the difficulty finding volunteers on weekdays. We try to get members to church on Sunday or to medical appointments, We have arranged to get people to radiation therapy or special medical treatments, which can be every day for up to six weeks. In a large church the Pastoral Care Team coordinates drivers rather doing the driving themselves. We also look for resources in our community foe transportation such as the Red Cross, Jewish Social Services, and local community programs. Most community services are for the indigent or those chronically disabled.
The Buddy System
The Buddy System matches up older members who live alone. Buddies call each other on alternate days to check-in and see how the other is doing. People usually do best when they choose their own buddy, but the Team can help with matching if necessary. The Team keeps track of emergency phone numbers for buddy pairs and serves as a backup if someone is concerned about their buddy.
Medical Equipment Loan Program
Members have donated to the church medical equipment such as walkers, canes, bedside commodes, guard rails for bed and tub, shower chairs, and crutches. The equipment is stored in the church attic and loaned out to members who need them. A member of the Pastoral Care Team monitors this loan program, This program is simple to carry out; its major requirement is space to store the equipment.
The Team provides someone to care for ill family members so that the caretaker may be Freed to attend church, medical appointments, or take care of their own needs. We have had several situations where we have provided respite care over long periods of time.
In one situation, we had six-eight volunteers a week caring for a baby for two-four hours at a time with esophageal ulcers, to allow the mother to get some rest and spend time with her three year old daughter. We continued this service for four months with a total of twenty-three volunteers from our church, The baby responded very well to all the loving caretakers.
In other circumstances we provided caretakers for a man with Alzheimer's so his wife could attend church twice a month. We coordinated caretakers for six-eight hours per day for one two weeks for people who can't be left alone when their caretaker needs to return to work.
In a more unusual situation we found two women in our congregation with an interest in art to take a middle aged woman with Alzheimer's to art museums once each month.
Visiting Members in Retirement Communities and Nursing Homes
Our Pastoral Care Team has tried to support several members of our congregation moving to retirement communities that are within reasonable proximity to our church. We have found that moving out of the longtime family home can be very stressful for elderly people. In the new retirement community we try to introduce them to other Unitarian Universalists, some from our own church community that are already there. We try to provide transportation for them to attend church regularly and to return for special church functions to stay in touch with old friends.
Members of the Pastoral Care Team visit members of our congregation in these retirement communities and /or nursing homes about once every one-two months and telephone between visits. For one member of our community who had a severely disabling stroke and is now in a nursing home, we organized members of our congregation to visit on a regularly scheduled basis so there would be ongoing visits from friends.
We have collected information about many resources in our community. We help people find support groups or email addresses for information about specific medical topics, We have information about local retirement communities and specialized medical facilities, as nursing homes and Assisted living/Alzheimer units. We have forms for Living Wills and Advanced Medical Directives. We have information about hospices, the Hemlock Society, and Compassionate Friends. We have application forms to get a Lifeline, We know how to get in touch with our state's Memorial Society.