Penn Valley center reaches out  to caregivers in need of respite |

Penn Valley center reaches out  to caregivers in need of respite

Members of Helping Hands Adult Day Care Center and their families enjoyed a hay ride Saturday at an event sponsored by the center.
Photo submitted by Jennifer Bond |

Some days, 80-year-old Gini McAfee is simply exhausted, and it’s no wonder. For the past five years, she has been taking care of her 82-year-old husband Bob, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I have to take him everywhere I go — my errands, appointments, everything,” said McAfee, who lives in Lake Wildwood, near Penn Valley. “I just don’t feel comfortable leaving him alone.”

But a year ago, McAfee learned about a program that would give her a little time to rest, recharge, socialize and catch up on the duties of everyday life.

Helping Hands Caregiver Resource is currently Nevada County’s only licensed adult day care center, which operates three days a week in the activities room of the Penn Valley Seventh Day Adventists church. With dramatic state funding cuts forcing many adult day care centers to shut their doors, the nonprofit Helping Hands has managed to stay alive thanks to small grants and private donations.

“Caregivers need regular breaks. Many don’t have support — some of them have come to us ready to crack.”

— Colleen Bond,
registered nurse

Registered nurse Colleen Bond worked at the Lutz Center for adults in Nevada City before it closed due to lack of funding.

“When the Lutz Center closed, I saw at least 40 families stranded, with nowhere to turn for adult day care,” she said. “Because of my experience in the field, I started looking for
other options.”

That’s when Bond approached her pastor about using their church’s fellowship hall for families in need of temporary day care over the busy holidays.

“On the first day people showed up in tears, so grateful that we were open,” she said. “At that point we all realized there was a real need out there, long-term. Caregivers need regular breaks. Many don’t have support — some of them have come to us ready to crack. We want to help people before they get to that point. They need to have a life outside care giving to stay sane and effective. One caregiver told me, ‘You are saving my life.’”

Pastor James Redfield and the congregation were supportive of the program’s goal of opening year-round and the church offered to fund the fledging nonprofit’s licensing process, and take on the burden of insurance and payroll requirements. The program would not be able to survive without the church’s help, said Bond, who is now the executive director of Helping Hands.

“There are no financial requirements,” she said. “We look at a family’s financial profile and see what they can afford. Many families are strapped, on fixed incomes. We’ll never make money — that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to help.”

Today, people like Gini McAfee are able to get a little time to themselves, while her husband Bob is chatting, eating, singing, even dancing with new friends he’s met at the center, said Bond.

“It’s important for people to get out of the house, have some peer interaction and normal socialization,” she said. “We play games, garden and create art. People here feel respected and our staff is qualified to deal with issues, such as dementia and other mental health challenges.”

After working in nursing homes for 30 years, registered nurse Sharon Kilwein said her job at Helping Hands is the most fulfilling work she’s ever done.

“We laugh, we play, I monitor medications,” she said. “But most importantly, we all have fun — everyone feels respected. The most rewarding part of my job is giving love and feeling love.”

Bond says the center currently has between 12 and 14 clients per day — three days a week — yet they are licensed for 30.

“Some people don’t know we’re here,” she said. “We want people to know we have room and we welcome newcomers. They will not be disappointed.”

Just ask Gini McAfee’s husband.

“Bob wakes up every morning with one question on his mind,” she said. “‘Is this a Helping Hands day?’”

To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email

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