When the Rev. Julie Hare asks caregivers to describe REACH (Refresh, Encourage, Activities, Care and Hope) – a drop-off respite ministry at Auburn United Methodist Church (Ala.) – she hears words like life-giving, refreshment, hope, peace and comfort, she said.

“One caregiver told me, ‘I can hardly put into words how much I appreciate the program. It has allowed me to cope and be a better caregiver.’”

“There is so much need for support for caregivers in our region,” said Hare, director of congregational care ministry at Auburn, who oversees the program. “Through REACH, we have found a way to reach out to them and support them.”

The four-hour program provides participants with early to moderate memory issues with a variety of activities, including chair exercises, arts and crafts, sing-alongs, balloon volleyball, pet therapy visits, mentally stimulating activities, like mind-joggers, and a pep rally with Aubie the Tiger, the mascot from nearby Auburn University.

auburn1

Meanwhile, their caregivers get a much-needed break – or respite – allowing them to run errands, keep an appointment, exercise or simply enjoy some free time.

REACH volunteers include members of the community and Auburn University nursing students. “They want to be part of the program,” she said. “They tell me, ‘That is the most fun I’ve had in a four-hour period.’”

Volunteers undergo training using REST (Respite Education & Support Tools) Essentials™ curriculum, which prepares individuals to provide respite in supervised group settings, such as adult day care and other drop-off programs. The curriculum covers such topics as building relationships with the caregiver and the care receiver, creating a positive environment to handle ordinary and challenging respite situations and planning and adapting activities. In addition, all REST training materials are available in Spanish, opening the door for bilingual learners.

“REST training has set the groundwork for what we are doing,” Hare said. “The program provides volunteers with the confidence and tools they need to succeed.”

REST is a nationally recognized respite-training program that benefits caregivers by allowing them to step away to refresh and recharge, knowing their loved ones are in good hands with respite-care workers, called REST Companions™, who have been well trained.

Since the REACH program began, the number of participants has increased, with eight attending in June, 11 in July, and 13 in August, Hare said. The program may expand from a monthly to a twice-weekly program in the months to come, capping at 20 participants each day.

When Hare asks participants if they’ve had fun, she often hears, ‘You betcha,’ she said. “One woman told me she couldn’t remember what she did during REACH, but she knows it was fun.”

REST is an evidence-supported training program, with participants overwhelmingly responding that the program prepared them to feel confident in providing quality respite to families. It uses a standardized curriculum, including the 10 core competencies that are aligned with the National Respite Guidelines.

The need for respite continues to grow. Today, more than 90 million individuals in the U.S. provide care for a family member or loved one, and respite care is one of the most frequently requested support services for caregivers, according to Caregiver Action Network.

For more information: restprogram.org