New volunteer coordinator with One Source-Empowering Caregivers hopes to incorporate faith community
KNOW & GO
What: Volunteer care specialist training
Where: 563 Brunswick Road, Suite 11, Grass Valley
When: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 7, Sept. 14 and Sept. 21
Rev. Melissa Horton’s resume is extensive.
She ran a psychological and spiritual counseling center in the Bay Area during the AIDS epidemic; is part of Aikin and Associates Clinical Psychologists in Davis; operates a private practice working with neuro-feedback technology; works as a chaplain; has volunteered with Hospice of the Foothills; teaches healing prayer retreats for clergy; and has led support groups through guided imagery at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s cancer center — among other things.
But while her resume dealing with trauma, bereavement and psychological exploration in professional settings is lengthy, Horton said there is no replacement for the personal experiences, sometimes near fatal ones, that have given her a better perspective on humanity.
“It’s not something you can learn in school. It’s not even something you can learn in an internship, it’s something like going through the trial yourself,” said Horton, mentioning how her own brushes with cancer and Lyme disease brought her a new understanding of life’s purpose.
The volunteer coordinator described these challenges as “a breaking open” instead of being broken.
“I am more than this disease. I am more than this body,” she said, referring to her experience with illness.
As of late July, Horton, who previously volunteered as a care specialist with One Source-Empowering Caregivers, replaced Harriet Totten as the volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit. In her new role, Horton hopes to incorporate individuals from religious and spiritual communities into the fold of the organization.
“People in faith communities really know how to take care of each other,” she said. They have a calling and understanding regardless of their tradition, she added.
One Source, a nonprofit devoted to supporting caregivers, has endured a few changes recently. Donna Raibley stepped down from her position as president of the organization in June, turning it over to interim president Deborah Rousseau. A new president for the organization will be chosen later this year.
One Source is a service that is a two-way street, said executive director Carolyn Seyler. Illness brings people, particularly in Western cultures, a unique opportunity to slow down and appreciate the totality of a human being.
“Dementia (patients) generally have brought to our culture, and internationally, a gift. And the gift of that disease process is to teach us how to be in the moment,” she said.
When sitting with an individual with dementia, they must “take in the whole experience of that person,” said Seyler. “What are they feeling? What is their body expressing? What are their eyes saying?”
The experience, said Seyler, is both a privilege and a challenge, as it forces volunteers to not rely so much on rote verbal skills.
“The language of dementia is the language of the heart,” said Seyler. “We have to strip ourselves of our skills and tools and reach into our emotional level to speak heart to heart.”
While volunteering with hospice, Horton became involved with One Source and became enraptured by Seyler’s sentiment that is embedded in the nonprofit’s volunteer-run model.
“If you look at it, it’s so simple it could be replicated in every community,” she said. “It’s incredible. And people would get taken care of that would (otherwise) fall between the cracks.”
Horton came to Nevada County on a whim around 2002. She was ready to leave the Bay Area, and visited the foothill community with a friend. While here, Horton met a real estate agent who she said doubled as a Buddhist poet.
“My whole life came together just getting here,” she said. “All I knew was I was supposed to be here.”
The agent helped her find a place in the area. Horton said she helped to care for the parents of the original owner of the home where she was then staying. It paved a powerful example for her of the importance of the county’s communal feel.
Now as a volunteer coordinator, she hopes to help the community’s caregivers who, she and Seyler agree, are in a precarious position.
“Isolation, stress and depression are killing, killing caregivers,” said Seyler. “And that is a huge epidemic: caregivers dying before the people they are taking care of do.”
Horton said volunteering to support caregivers provides opportunities to partake in extraordinary experiences — even if their experiences are not shared in the ways we traditionally consider.
“There’s a way where we get where we’re all on a different journey, and we can accompany others without it being threatening to us,” said Horton. That unique communion is what the new coordinator hopes to foster.
Horton is still maintaining her roles in Davis and Sacramento as well as her private practice in the area. But, she said, she still makes time to ponder ways to enhance the position and the organization.
“The ideas are coming,” she said.
Sam Corey has received volunteer care specialist training from One Source-Empowering Caregivers.
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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