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Local women make labor of love their business

After a year, Day In Time hopes to serve more people

May 19, 2010 | 08:36 AM
East Troy — Three women strolled back into St. James United Methodist Church, hand-in-hand, quietly discussing the warm weather.

The elderly woman in the middle suffers from memory loss. On one arm, she had a volunteer who often keeps her company through conversation, games and other activities. On the other arm was Debbie Waldron-Smith — the woman who helped start A Day In Time, Inc., a program meant for seniors in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer's and dementia.

The program was set up a little more than a year ago, and has faced both triumphs and challenges, according to co-director Waldron-Smith. But through it all, she and co-director Cindy Lester have kept the true mission of the three-day care center at the forefront of their minds — to provide companionship, structure and rejuvenating activities for mind, body and spirit. But those suffering from memory loss are not the only people Waldron-Smith and Lester serve.

"These people's loved ones can get more sleep at night and they can meet people in similar situations and are able to share," Lester said. "In many cases, they are the primary caregiver for their spouse or family member and it can get to be straining. In order to be a good caregiver, you have to take care of yourself, too, and this program regularly allows them to recharge their batteries."

A Day In Time is called an adult care facility, but it provides themed days with activities meant to provide socialization, spark memory, teach about memory loss, thinking exercises and even lunch every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 3:30 a.m.

Activities include dancing, storytelling, playing cards, improv poetry, pet therapy, dressing up in costume, puzzles, memory games and thinking exercises and focus on invoking memory and brain activity.

The program began in February of last year but had been something the two women had been thinking about for several years.

"We knew we wanted our own business, and right when we were both turning 50 we were in one of our basements brainstorming," Waldron-Smith said. "We both had a sincere love for people with Alzheimer's."

Waldron-Smith said that love for her developed with the relationship she had with her grandmother and once helping an elderly person by regularly bringing them groceries and company.

"They all have a story to tell and a legacy," she said. "They provide a greater wisdom."

Waldron-Smith has degrees in Gerontology and Sociology and has worked for homecare agencies as well as a geriatric assessment clinic in the past.

For Lester, she "caught the bug" when she was volunteering at a clinic and noticed she had a gift for motivating. She helped in the progression of similar programs in Racine and Kenosha counties.

"To help make them feel loved, secure, purposeful again and see them engaging again and making friendships with us and other participants — it makes you feel warranted," Lester said. "These people are living in the moment like we all should, so we try to encourage that spontaneity, spark memories and involvement instead of having them sit at home."

Lester said once they realized there wasn't a program in Walworth County that was offering adult care for those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia, they realized their dream.

"I said I'd love to entertain the idea of an adult care facility and I looked over at Debbie and she had a tear in her eye," she said. "We knew this was it. This was our dream to pursue."

With help from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, St. James United Methodist Church to house the operation and next door neighbor and colleague, Alzheimer's Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, the women were about to turn the dream into reality. The women call the program their "labor of love."

And while it didn't take the program long to gain steady enrollment when it began, Waldron-Smith said the program is facing challenges.

She said due to the nature of the clients they serve, many of those enrolled reach a point where they can't come back, whether it be a progression of the memory loss, injuries and when a participant dies.

Right now, the group is down to about 10 participants who come at least once a month for those same reasons. The less the number of participants on a given day, means less funds for the program which operates on a daily fee. Waldron-Smith said she would love to have that many participants, if not a few more, who could come nearly every day the program is offered.

For now, Waldron-Smith said the program is managing to financially keep the doors open. Also, donations can be made so that people who can't afford the program still can attend.

"We still haven't accomplished our entire goal yet," Waldron-Smith said. "We're successful for opening our doors and providing a service that is so needed in this community. But I think we could provide so much more to more people if we were closer to the general population in the county and more centrally located."

She said the group currently is looking into options for a different location because transportation is an issue for many people who wish to enroll in the program.

But the group would most likely need a setup similar to what they have now with the St. James United Methodist Church in order to afford rent or a lease.

"We would absolutely love to have our own facility — a building that is ours, but the most probable location for us would be another church due to the goodwill they provide while we get back on our feet again," Lester said.

With their dream facility, the women hope to provide a safe environment with a large space outdoors so that more, varied activities can take place. Lester said they dream of being able to walk hand-in-hand with the volunteers and participants through the program's very own garden.

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