JFS Perspectives

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Barbara Garrett: A Volunteer So Nice, She’s Doing It Twice!

Barbara Garrett: A Volunteer So Nice, She’s Doing It Twice!

Barbara Garrett has been volunteering with Boulder JFS for the past year and a half, ever since she retired from her position as a tax advocate. She was looking for a meaningful way to volunteer and help others, and Boulder JFS offered precisely the opportunity she was looking for. “Volunteering with JFS was always in the back of my mind,” says Barbara. “When the time came, I knew who to call.”

Barbara liked the idea of serving as a Friendly Visitor and establishing a meaningful and supportive relationship with someone elderly or someone living with a disabling condition. Ingrid Swords, Boulder JFS’s volunteer coordinator, worked to match Barbara with a client in need of companionship and to whom Barbara would relate well. It didn’t take her long to suggest Rebecca Gish, who is living with a brain injury and all the complications that come with it. It was a match made in heaven. Not only has the pair developed a lasting friendship, but Rebecca is thriving in ways no one thought possible.

“I enjoy meeting with Rebecca,” says Barbara. “She’s highly educated and we share a lot of similar views.” When they first got together, Barbara learned that Rebecca enjoyed knitting before her injury. Barbara loves to knit, so she encouraged Rebecca to try it again. Rebecca picked it up quickly and now knitting is their shared pastime whenever they get together. “It’s rewarding for me to help her and see how much she can do in the creative process of knitting,” says Barbara. “Knitting offers so many benefits, including improved cognitive function, memory, and eye-hand coordination, as well as the opportunity to talk.”

Beyond knitting, Barbara and Rebecca have been working on making positive lifestyle changes and enjoy improving their diets and walking outside. Barbara’s influences have had a positive impact on Rebecca. She is thriving when she used to be isolated and alone. She has confidence, long-term goals, and a sense of purpose she didn’t have before.

Barbara and LornaBarbara has enjoyed her time with Rebecca so much that when an opportunity came up with second client in need, she was quick to accept. This time she was matched with Lorna Lund*, a 95-year-old woman who lives in a local skilled nursing care community. Lorna has severe dementia, which has advanced significantly in the last year.

In the beginning of the relationship, Barbara would bring activities to sharpen Lorna’s cognitive skills, including simple puzzles, word games, and crossword puzzles. Lorna can no longer do puzzles, but Barbara still visits her at least once a week and accompanies her to activities at her residence. Sometimes she sings to Lorna, who will sometimes sing along.

More recently, Lorna and Barbara enjoy simply sitting in the sun and being with each other. Barbara often just sits with Lorna and holds her hand. “I provide the extended personal contact that the nurses at the facility can’t give,” says Barbara. “I work to make my visits with Lorna as pleasant as possible, which reduces the anxiety and frustration she experiences with her dementia. Even though she doesn’t always remember who I am, we have developed a nice bond. Lorna definitely feels love, and that is special for me.”

Barbara’s relationship with Lorna has been a big help to Lorna’s daughter and primary caregiver, Linda. By spending quality time with Lorna, Linda can take time for herself, apart from her caregiver role. “She knows that I am giving Lorna the contact and comfort that she needs,” says Barbara. “She’s very grateful for my help.”

Being a JFS Friendly Visitor for two people has been extremely rewarding for Barbara. “It’s my way of giving back and it’s very meaningful to me,” she says. “I’m gladdened and warmed by the difference I have been able to make in the lives of two people I care deeply about. I highly encourage anyone to consider exploring what JFS has to offer. I’ve enjoyed meeting wonderful people, from the staff to my new friends.”

*After this article was published, we learned that Lorna recently passed away. Our condolences are with her family.

JFS offers a variety of volunteer opportunities that can easily fit into your lifestyle and schedule. Consider being a Friendly Visitor for someone who is isolated and needs companionship. To learn more, contact Nancy Benyamin, director of Volunteer Services, at 720.248.4642 . In Boulder, please contact Ingrid Swords, at 720.749.3403.