November 19, 2010

Caregivers fill the gaps in services for those in need

Community Caregivers Executive Director Cindee Tanuma inside the
 Loaner's Closet, offering 2,000 items to anyone in need
Union Leader Correspondent
Cindee Tanuma and office coordinator Julie Levesque
with twobowls recently donated for February's
 annual fundraiser, The Potter's Bowl.
DERRY -- When an organization relies on volunteer power to make it run, having a strategy helps. Cindee Tanuma, executive director of Community Caregivers of Greater Derry, has a strategy that seems to be working: If you give them autonomy, they will come.
“We try to make the point that we’ve got something for everyone,” said Tanuma, who has been at the helm for five of the organization’s 22 years.
While the Caregivers’ mission is straightforward – people helping people maintain their independence – the group is not tied up with a lot of bureaucratic
 red tape. Volunteers can raise their hands to be drivers, housekeepers, landscapers, or just a helpful companion. They can volunteer daily, weekly, or just once in a while. They don’t do medical visits or provide personal care.
Caregivers is not the organization to call if you need service in a 911 kind of way.
But if you’ve lost your autonomy and need rides to appointment or for groceries, perhaps some light housework or yard work, or maybe just a little respite care, help is a phone call away.
And although help may not be immediate, once it comes it continues until your situation changes, said Tanuma.
In the past year, 400 volunteer
 Caregivers have provided 23,000 hours of community service to 300 clients, which translates to $500,000 worth of services if you calculate the cost at the going rate of about $20.85 per hour. That is in addition to 94,000 miles of donated mileage to appointments and supermarkets with clients who would otherwise have no options. 
“Maybe you’ll wait six months until we find you a good volunteer match, but after that, you’ll have sixyears’ worth of help – or help for as long as you need it,” said Tanuma. 
In particular, Tanuma loves volunteer requests — like a Hampstead school group recently looking for someone in need which was matched up with residents of Emerson Village retirement community. It was a one-time day of giving — students earned some volunteer street cred and residents got their yards tidied up in time for winter. 
Another important Caregivers outreach is the Loaner’s Closet, which is a store room filled with an inventory of more than 2,000 pieces of medical equipment and supplies, all available free of charge to anyone in need. They also have leads on where to get chair lifts and hospital beds. 
This year they have loaned walkers, crutches, canes, commodes and personal supplies to 860 people, up from 500 last year and 300 the year before. 
“There are definitely more people accessing our services – it’s partly due to more word of mouth, more media exposure, more visiting nurses who spread the word. When something is free, word spreads,” said Tanuma. 
Perhaps the most important part of what Community Caregivers offers to its client base — primarily the elderly, disabled or housebound — is one-on-one companionship. Once a volunteer is matched with a client, that relationship takes its own course. The volunteer gets to know the client, and often friendships blossom. 
That kind of first-person attention begins from the initial phone call, something Tanuma is passionate about. “I always like to treat every call like I am the first person to give someone the time of day because, sometimes, that’s all they need,” said Tanuma. The frustration that can come from being referred from group to group because no one has the right answer, can compound someone’s feeling of isolation or frustration. 
“Even if I have to put someone on a waiting list, I try to give them good leads that will tide them over. I hope I never send them away packing without a hope,” Tanuma said. 
Because Caregivers operates with a small staff on a limited budget, mostly reliant on its volunteer labor, Tanuma is acutely aware of gaps that exist in the communities served, which includes Chester, Derry, Hampstead, Londonderry, Salem and Windham. 
“I’d say more abundant free respite care is needed. There are plenty of agencies out there you can hire, but none I know of that will come out and offer some respite care for free, except through a church,” said Tanuma. 
Transportation is another much-needed service, particularly for rides beyond the loop of local hospitals. 
“Generally, when people call in need of rides, they have to wait for a volunteer to become available, and that takes time. The only exception is when someone is in need of cancer treatment. In that case, we either find a way to help right away, or not at all,” said Tanuma. 
“I’ll call 30 churches to get something in Sunday bulletins to see if anyone is available, or put the word out to some of our drivers who prefer the drives down to Boston. But if I can’t find someone quickly, I will let them know they need to look elsewhere — we don’t want them waiting for services we can’t provide fast enough,” said Tanuma. 
In January the group’s operations moved from the basement of the Masonic Temple to the main floor and expanded its staff, adding Linda Connelly who puts in 10 hours as the Loaner’s Closet coordinator, and Nancy Pierce, who dedicates 10 hours a week to coordinating rides for clients. There is also Paula Flynn, a part-time grant writer who has been with the operation for about three years. 
“Our program doesn’t endlessly grow. The number of clients we serve is in flux — some die, some go to nursing homes, some move out of the area,” Tanuma said. “We are always in the process of recruiting volunteers and working hard to make sure anyone in need gets the help they need.” 

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