DOVER—Dr. Karen Hein and her husband Ralph held hands as the doors to the Gathering Place’s Dover site officially flew open, June 18.
Ralph, a pediatrician, lives with Alzheimer’s. For the past few years, he has travelled on the Moover from his home in the Deerfield Valley to the Gathering Place’s Brattleboro location.
Karen smiled. The new Dover location means a shorter commute for Ralph, whom she affectionately calls “Ralphie.” Ralph lifted his head and smiled at the mention of his name.
The Gathering Place provides day programming for adults with disabilities and elders. Their services include nursing care such as managing chronic diseases.
Staff also provide therapeutic activities, and meals during the day. Staff administer medications, conduct art activities, and help clients bathe. They hold dementia-specific activities as well.
The Dover site opened last month. Currently 17 clients are enrolled, with an average of 10 clients a day using the site. The program can accommodate up to 50 people a day. The program is open to adults 18 years old and older.
According to board members, renovation and construction cost approximately $250,000. Purchasing the building, an additional $200,000.
“Donations are appreciated to cover some of those costs,” Board Chair Andrew Loney said.
Karen said that when former Gathering Place Executive Director Mary Fredette first proposed a Deerfield Valley location, Karen hoped it would happen in Ralph’s lifetime.
She credits the Gathering Place for giving Ralph a place to receive care and remain active. For her, the facility means respite. When her husband returns home in the afternoon, she feels “fresh” and ready to care for him.
As a former pediatrician, Karen said, Ralph is by nature a problem solver. When he first started attending the Gathering Place, he thought he was one of the medical team helping to solve problems. The staff made space for him to feel engaged and useful, Karen said.
Leaving a legacy
At the ribbon cutting, Loney told the gathered crowd of clients, staff, family members, and visitors the Dover facility is dedicated to Fredette.
“During her tenure as [executive director] of the Gathering Place, she was able to bring us from small, underfunded nonprofit without the capacity to serve on the level we truly envisioned to where we are today with two facilities, a steady census, and the ability to serve many more,” Loney said.
He continued, “Vermont is aging, and it is places like the Gathering Place that will ensure no one will be abandoned — that everyone can get the attention and care that they need on a daily basis.”
Loney joined the board three years ago. “It’s been a fun ride so far,” he said.
He enjoys walking into the Gathering Place and seeing happy clients.
“I’ve had grandparents who had Alzheimer’s, who had Parkinson’s,” he said. “They get to a point where they almost feel abandoned.”
A facility like the Gathering Place, however, creates space for elders to stay healthy, he said.
“Just seeing them smile puts a smile on your own face,” he said.
Loney gave Fredette full credit for making the Dover site a reality. She proposed the idea three years ago, he said. Once the site was chosen, it was four to five months of construction.
“She was the driving force behind this,” he added. “We’re proud to be here, we’re proud to be in Dover.”
Fellow board member and attorney Amelia Lawrence Darrow said it took time to find the right spot for a second location.
One site the organization considered was the Old High School in Wilmington. Later, the board settled on a former Chinese restaurant in West Dover.
The work didn’t stop there, however, said Darrow. Substantial time went into renovating the restaurant into a care facility.
“Construction always runs longer than you think,” she said.
The organization is still fine-tuning its staffing between the two sites and recruiting clients, she said. The process is going well, she added.
Keeping it local
The project came into being after a number of Deerfield Valley clients and their families that use the Brattleboro site asked if the Gathering Place could create a second location closer to their homes.
At the time, the organization was growing its board and including Deerfield Valley members. Their presence provided a little more focus for the Deerfield Valley, Darrow said.
The Gathering Place serves all of Windham County, she noted. Clients come from Townshend, Jamaica, Wardsboro, and the Grafton area. It can be a challenge to get to Brattleboro, especially in bad weather, she said.
Darrow practices elder law. She said programs like the Gathering Place help people stay independent longer.
“I serve a population of people who are concerned as they grow older with finding ways that allow them to stay at home as long as possible, as opposed to moving into a residential facility such as a nursing home,” she said.
“Adult day provides one of many solutions for people to remain living at home or with loved ones,” she continued. “They might receive care in the evenings from loved ones but those family members may work during the day and they don’t feel comfortable leaving their elder home alone.”
Multiple funding sources
Funding for the project came through multiple sources, including commitments from the towns of Wilmington and Dover. Family members made donations. The organization also used some of the equity in its Brattleboro building, Darrow said.
Maggie Lewis is The Gathering Placen’s new executive director. She stepped into the position in April.
The Dover site is an expansion of the programs it currently offers in Brattleboro. She said one of the primary benefits is a shorter drive for clients in the Deerfield Valley. Some clients travelled as much as an hour one way to reach the Brattleboro site.
“It’s a great go-between, if there’s a need in a family ... we’re available to help that family during the day,” she said. “If someone needs to go to work, their loved one can come and spend the day with us. It really becomes like a family.”
Lewis has worked in health care for more than 25 years with a focus on long-term care. Most recently, she worked for the Vermont Alzheimer’s association.
Lewis said she was a child when her passion for elder care and supporting adults with disabilities took root. According to Lewis, her father operated a camp for disabled World War II veterans. Then that camp transitioned into a camp for children with disabilities. Many of the veterans stayed on as camp councilors. Lewis and her siblings also worked at the camp.
“Being nurtured in that way by my parents, I’ve always had a sense of service, so I think that’s where the spark started,” she said.
The passion continued through college and graduate school. She feels that she is the luckiest person alive to work at The Gathering Place.