SEQUIM — This place, Suzie Bliven said, is “a safe and loving environment.”

Bliven’s mother, Carmen Jarvis, frequented Tim’s Place – a group of volunteers and carers who support people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia each week – before the collective was closed for the holidays. COVID-19 restrictions and recently when the group restarted.

“They’re all about nurturing the loved one and the keeper,” Bliven said.

“I love it here,” Jarvis said.

Rhonda Heyn is executive director of the Community Respite Program which meets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave. – a group that offers hours of activities and a lunch.

While welcome to stay, caregivers know they have a nurturing place to drop off their loved ones while they relax or focus on whatever they need or like to do, organizers say.

“Our initial focus was respite for caregivers,” Heyn said, “but it quickly became a dual focus of respite and keeping people with memory loss an active part of the community.

“We built the program to provide them with purpose, joy and community.”

Bliven spends her time “balancing the things that need to be done and feeding herself.”

About 40 people volunteer with the program; Heyn says some come twice a year while others come almost weekly.

Volunteers and people living with memory loss wear the same name badges, which identify them only by their first name.

“We don’t distinguish between volunteers and participants during the program,” said Heyn, who noted that many of the volunteers are retired professionals.

“I think [activities are] as much fun for us as they are,” said volunteer Elaine Bradford.

Activities include conversations about early life experiences, art, music, word games and exercises.

A favorite with almost everyone is a form of volleyball in which participants hit balls with pool noodles.

The individual boxed lunch, with a vegetarian option, is prepared by Leo’s Cafe, but people are welcome to bring their own lunch; drinks and snacks are offered.

Tim’s Place asks for a $30 donation per session, but “we don’t turn anyone away based on their ability to pay,” Heyn said.

“While we have received launch funds, we are dependent on donations to keep our doors open and provide scholarships to those in need,” she said.

Heyn hopes the program will expand to offer Tuesdays by the end of the year. About 30 people is the capacity for a day, and some 20 to 25 volunteers and participants have attended in recent weeks.

Those interested in volunteering can contact Heyn at [email protected] be put on the waiting list.

“I would like to have a ratio of one to one or, in the worst case, one to two volunteers per participant in order to give everyone the care and attention they deserve,” she said.

It also takes, Heyn said, community members who are willing to share what they know.

“Musical instruments, singers, clowns, pet therapy animals, entertainers, etc. – we invite people to share their talents with us,” she said.

The origins of Tim’s Place

Tim’s Place was named after Carolee Dunn’s husband.

“Carolee wanted to open a daycare like the one her husband attended in California. She moved here after she died,” Heyn said.

“She asked the church to create a respite program and donated seed money to get it started. The church then set up an exploratory committee to determine how a program could be created and run.

Tim’s Place operates financially independently of the church, Heyn noted. She said she joined the committee at the request of Dunn and former church pastor Bill Green because of her background as a caregiver.

“After the plan was developed, the committee then formed the board and asked me to be the chief executive,” she said.

Heyn takes care of the administrative work, the training and coordination of the volunteers and the preparation and animation of the sessions.

Twelve years ago, she left her career to become a caregiver to her in-laws.

“My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and she was caring for her elderly mother and husband (who has dementia) herself,” said Heyn, who became the caregiver for all three parents.

“I realized how difficult it was and how few resources were available for carer support,” she said. “When the opportunity arose to help create this program, I knew I had to make it a reality.”

Respite for all

While researching to open Tim’s Place, Heyn came across an innovative program called Respite for All, started at a church in Montgomery, Alabama, by Daphne Johnston.

“I called her to get more information about the program and was so intrigued that I asked if I could go to Alabama and watch her,” Heyn said.

“The name ‘Respite For All’ reflects the belief that people with dementia as well as their care partners need respite from daily life often marked by social isolation, anxiety and stress from the moment diagnosis,” Johnston said.

“The program is dedicated to supporting family care partners in a variety of ways while simultaneously providing people with dementia the opportunity for new friendships and a sense of belonging to the local community outside of the home.”

During the training, Johnston said, Heyn learned that “people with dementia always have a purpose and a strong desire to be part of their community. Her leadership is effortless and she has an authentic way of bringing people into the circle, volunteers and participants alike.

Tim’s Place opened August 2019 and closed February 2020 due to COVID-19 health measures.

After a brief second start, it reopened again in June this year.

“We want to grow the program,” said longtime volunteer Barbara Parse.

“There is a huge need, and we cannot help everyone.”

Says Heyn, “We would love to share Daphne’s dream of developing this model of community care. We hope to outgrow our building and involve more churches in the community.

“As of now, we’re still in the early stages and we’re not quite there yet, although I’d be happy to meet someone from another church to discuss it.”

In the 27 volunteer communities inspired by Montgomery’s program, “the running theme is that those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can find joy again with the help of their neighbors,” Johnson said.

“A famous theologian, John Swinton, once said, ‘It is not the person with dementia who forgets his community, it is often the community that forgets him.’

“Tim’s Place is a prime example that love never forgets.”

To learn more about Respite for All, visit respiteforall.org.

To volunteer or learn more about Tim’s Place, email [email protected].

Donations may be made or sent to the Trinity United Methodist Church office and specified for “Tim’s Place”: TUMC, PO Box 3697, Sequim, WA 98382.

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Emily Matthiessen is a reporter for the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is made up of Sound Publishing Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Contact her at [email protected]