Student-run Faith Care Connections provides caregivers respite care

Aging expert draws on personal experience, studies at Lipscomb University’s Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership to develop unique program

Families who are facing the challenges of caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other conditions caused by aging now have a resource to helo them stay connected to their faith communities through respite care and spiritual enrichment.

Faith Care Connections initial meeting with coalition of churches in the Madison, Tenn., community.

Faith Care Connections is a newly launched organization that provides support for caregivers of family members with these debilitating conditions. Lori Corley, director of FiftyForward’s Madison, Tenn., station, founded the organization as part of her graduate studies in Lipscomb University’s Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership. FiftyForward enriches the lives of adults 50 and older by providing pathways to health, well-being and lifelong learning.

“The statistics on Alzheimer's disease are astounding, but for me, it’s personal,” said Corley. “I lost both of my maternal grandparents to the disease. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and my grandfather died of a broken heart caring for her. While he had family support, he lost a strong sense of connection to his church and his spiritual life suffered because he was isolated as a caregiver. I witnessed this time and again as a therapist and support group leader.”

Faith Care Connections offers monthly times of sharing, caring and education for Alzheimer's/dementia families when the family member with the disease can participate or be cared for by trained volunteers in respite care.

“We will have times of prayer, sharing, singing and fellowship,” said Corley. “The ultimate goal is to be able to provide spiritual support for families in the area who are experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that prevents them from attending regular church activities.”

Corley launched her new initiative in September with an initial coalition of churches in the Madison, Tenn., community. This group includes Madison Church of Christ, Madison Christian Church, City Road United Methodist Church and St. Joseph’s Parish Life Center. Corley said she hopes additional churches in other communities around Nashville will want to participate as they learn about the program.

Corley said the organization’s long-range goals include providing respite care in area churches on a continuous basis, so caregivers can attend services in their own congregations. Faith Care Connections hosted its first service day in the Madison area last month.

 “Caregivers, while sometimes frustrated and stressed, feel a great sense of joy and comfort in knowing that they are loving and caring for another as Christ calls us to do,” she said. “I believe the best support system in our community can be through our church families. However, many times we are left uncomfortable trying to know the best way to help.”

Last month, Corley received a $1,000 Caregiving Grant in Older Adult Ministries from the General Board of Discipleship Committee on Older Adult Ministries of the United Methodist Church to help fund the organization’s work.

Corley said that Faith Care Connections is the culmination of more than 10 years of research and study. In 2000, Corley attended the World Alzheimer’s Congress in Washington, D.C., and she returned home with the idea to develop a resource for caregivers. Since that time, Corley has been developing and refining her idea. This deeply personal experience guided Corley as she chose her master’s degree project.

”Lori is a star student — a great example of a student who brought an idea she had nurtured for years to life as she studied civic leadership at Lipscomb.  We are pleased that her project is seen as a national model for connecting caregivers and those they care for with their faith communities,” said Linda Schacht, executive director of the Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership.

Faith Care Connections provides a much-needed community resource.

“This is one of the very best projects for ministry I have seen,” said Rick Gentzler, director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the United Methodist Church. “Lori has been a catalyst for launching this program with her enthusiasm, faith and knowledge all working together to benefit not only the program at Lipscomb University, but more importantly the caregivers and care-receivers in the community.”

Corley said she hopes Faith Care Connections is an initiative that spreads across the country.

“As communities are building connections with the churches in their cities, I hope this program is a model and provides a framework. I hope this is a resource for others to follow,” she said.

The civic leadership master’s program helped Corley learn how to make those connections.

“I've been encouraged to better understand that one person can make a difference, and I can be that person,” she said.

For more information visit www.faithcareconnections.com.