The Respite Ministry at Montgomery’s First United Methodist Church gives its participants and their families exactly what its name implies, a break from the isolation, anxiety and exertion that can accompany life with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
In a room buzzing with activity, conversation and laughter, it’s easy to forget that about half of the men and women seated around the tables are living with an incurable disease. The 50 or so people gathered inside First United Methodist Church of Montgomery are part of the church’s Respite Ministry. Some are
participants, those who have memory loss due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s or stroke; the rest are program volunteers. In fact, it’s hard to tell who’s who, and that’s by design, according to Daphne Johnston, the founder and Director of the program.
“All our nametags are the same — for the volunteers, participants and staff. That might sound simple, but there are no labels that identify one person as having dementia and another being a volunteer,” said Johnston. “Everyone is living with different challenges, so we are just coming together to make it through the day and inspire each other.”
The program was started a little over six years ago when FUMC’s Senior Pastor at the time, Lawson Bryan, saw a need for Alzheimer’s support groups and community education. He enlisted Johnston, who’d worked for many years as the executive director of a large retirement community, to research
options the church could offer.
After studying similar groups in Fairhope, Alabama; Columbus, Georgia; and Lawrenceville, Georgia, Johnston pulled together parts of all three and formed what is now the Respite Ministry. The first day, there were two participants in the basement of the church. Fast forward to today, and it has 65 participants and its own Respite Center on the main floor of FUMC. Four days a week, the group comes together to socialize and participate in activities ranging from music and dance, to arts and crafts, exercise and service projects.
Johnston said, “One of my favorite quotes is from Lisa Genova, the author of 'Still Alice.' Genova said, ‘We can’t cure Alzheimer’s yet, but we can cure loneliness.’ That really is the theme of what this ministry does. We offer an alternative to the isolation — a life filled with meaning and hope.”
Providing a Path of Peace & Purpose
Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. After a diagnosis, patients and their loved ones experience a rollercoaster of emotions — denial, fear and despair. “When the doctor
tells you that you have Alzheimer’s, you’re told that you have an incurable disease and to get your affairs in order. The reality is, people can live another 20 years after that diagnosis, and they want to really live,” said Johnston.
Statistics gathered by the Alzheimer’s Association show around 5.7 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and that number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. In addition, nearly 44
million U.S. adults are caregivers, many of which aren’t receiving any kind of respite care or break from their duties. The Respite Ministry at FUMC has received national attention for its work that gives its participants a sense of purpose while allowing their caregivers a break.
Johnston has presented to the New York State Respite Coalition and was also invited to speak on a national webinar hosted by the U.S. Administration on Aging about what’s going right in our nation’s faith-based communities. The Respite Ministry’s most recent exposure came this past May, when
Kiplinger magazine wrote about the ministry’s work, calling it a “quality alternative to the cost of rising health care.” At $40 a session, three or four days a week, the ministry costs participants around $7,000 annually. Participants who can’t pay that aren’t turned down, they’re instead offered scholarships, paid for through donations and corporate support.
Caddell Construction and Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors, Respite’s two corporate sponsors, have had team members whose family members have been personally served by the ministry. “We’ve seen Respite provide unparalleled support during challenging times,” said Richard Stabler, Warren Averett’s Managing Member in Montgomery. “Warren Averett recognizes the resource that FUMC’s Respite Ministry provides to our friends and family within the community living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. This ministry has demonstrated the amazing ability to provide assistance to the caregiver and to aide in the quality of life for the participant.”
The Respite Ministry is also assisted by community partners as well area churches, including Christ Church XP, Church of the Ascension, First Baptist Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and Temple Beth Or.
Spreading the Flame of Service
Johnston has the ultimate goal of taking the ministry nationwide. She’s already helped a handful of churches in Alabama build similar programs using Respite’s volunteer model of care. “The biggest surprise to me is the joy I get from working with these volunteers,” she said.
Johnston is one of only two paid employees at the Respite Ministry who work alongside a growing list of 150 volunteers. While Johnston focuses on development and growth, Laura Selby was hired to run the day-to-day operations and coordinate volunteers. Selby estimates that over the program’s six years,
those volunteers have provided more than 60,000 hours of unpaid care. “Most of our volunteers are retired,” said Johnston. “They have learned that happiness doesn’t come from the golf course or by playing tennis. True happiness in life comes from serving others.”
Cops for Christmas, Montgomery Police Department’s annual toy drive, recently expanded its efforts to help those impacted by Hurricane Michael that devastated parts of the Florida panhandle. MPD officers collected cash donations to purchase toys and other needed items and delivered them to affected families in the Panama City area.
Valiant Cross Academy Highlighted
Beasley Allen Law Firm Managing Attorney and Valiant Cross Academy (VCA) supporter Tom Methvin and his wife Amy recently held a special event to raise awareness of the mission of Valiant Cross Academy and raise scholarship funds to help expand the school’s reach. More than 175 guests and community leaders came out in full force to support the growing school for young men. “Valiant Cross Academy has helped meet a huge need in our community and made a difference in the lives of many young men,” Methvin said. Mayor Todd Strange addressed the many guests: “We are very fortunate
to have Valiant Cross Academy in Montgomery as it represents the best of what we can be when we collectively share a vision to help educate our kids,” he said. “The event was held to help raise scholarship funds for 20 scholars at VCA and raised $400,000."
Alabama Association of Independent Colleges & Universities Supports Students
In October, the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AAICU) distributed $42,000 in UPS Scholarships to assist 14 students at private colleges and universities in Alabama. The
scholarships were made possible by a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), through the CIC/UPS Educational Endowment. “By directly assisting Alabama students with significant financial
need, we are helping a new generation of students achieve dreams of a college education,” said Paul Hankins, President of AAICU. Nationally, CIC and the UPS Foundation provided more than $1.6 million in scholarships through state-based associations.
MAX4Kids Raises More Than $30,000
In mid-October, the MAX4Kids Foundation hosted its 19th Annual MAX4Kids Charity Golf Tournament at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Prattville. With 160 golfers and 54 dedicated sponsors, the fundraising event netted more than $30,000. At this year’s event, the MAX4Kids Foundation invited the golf team from Valiant Cross Academy to play in the tournament and also presented the team with a $5,000 donation. “We are thankful for the support we have received from all of our sponsors and golfers, who help make this event successful each year,” said Sandra Stenger, Chief Talent Officer and MAX4Kids President. “Fundraisers, like the golf tournament, allow us the opportunity to continue to give back to local children’s organizations like Valiant Cross Academy.” The MAX4Kids Foundation benefits children’s charities in the River Region and East Alabama, as well as the MAX4Kids Scholarship Program. The MAX4Kids Foundation is a non-profit organization that was created in 2001 by MAX associates as a way to give back to the communities MAX serves.