Caring for the caregivers of local veterans: Legacy Corps

The organization is thriving in Boise — so much so that it’s looking to expand its ranks

awebb@idahostatesman.comNovember 11, 2013 

  • Veterans Day events

    - Eleven veterans and five volunteers will be honored at four Spirit of Freedom Award ceremonies throughout the state on Monday.

    The Boise ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. at the Idaho State Veterans Home, 320 Collins Road.

    For information, contact volunteer coordinator Phil Hawkins at 246-8750.

    Sen. Mike Crapo created this annual award to acknowledge the contributions, patriotism, service and sacrifice of Idaho’s veterans and service providers.

    - The Boise State University Veterans Day Ceremony is 11 a.m. to noon on Monday in the south end zone of Bronco Stadium.

    The free event includes a presentation by Command Chief Master Sgt. Carlo Fenicottero, the senior enlisted member of the 124th Fighter Wing of the Idaho Air National Guard.

    A reception will follow in the Stueckle Sky Center Skyline Room.

    Free parking is available in the west stadium parking lot. Enter the stadium through South Gate A.

    For information, call Erin VanDenburgh at 426-4239.

    - The Caldwell Elks Lodge No. 1448 will present its annual Veteran’s Day Program at 11 a.m. Monday by the Memorial Wall in front of the old City Hall at 7th and Cleveland. Speakers include retired U.S. Army Major Lyle Gessford, Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas. The program will include music from Vallivue High School and others.

    - Legion Riders Veterans Day chili feed fundraiser: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at the Nampa American Legion Hall, 1504 2nd St. S. in Nampa. Suggested donation: $5. The event will raise money to help a needy veteran’s family at Christmas.

    Freebies: Many restaurants will offer free meals and more for veterans on Monday, including Applebee’s, Golden Corral, Hooters, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Famous Dave's Barbeque, and Metro Express Car Wash. Heritage Auto Repair in Meridian will offer free oil changes to veterans.

    Call ahead to make sure local stores and branches are participating.

  • Is Legacy Corps a good volunteer fit for you?

    Contact Friends in Action to find out more, 1607 W Jefferson St., Boise, 333-1363.

    The program also welcomes sponsorships from local businesses and organizations.

    A grant from the Corporation for National and Community Services helps fund Legacy Corps. The grant requires a 50 percent match.

    A donation of $1,100 provides weekly help to one family for an entire year; $500 provides weekly help to one family for six months; $250 provides weekly help for one family for three months.

There’s casual volunteering — raking a neighbor’s lawn, spending a noon hour slinging soup at a shelter, donating a turkey to a food bank. All of this is good, but it’s a world apart from a program like Legacy Corps.

Each Legacy Corps volunteer commits 450 hours of service each year — more than eight hours a week — providing respite for the family caregivers of veterans.

Volunteers do any number of tasks to lighten caretakers’ loads. They visit. They help veterans get dressed. They take them on outings. They read to them or help them shop. The service is free for families. It’s a national program, with a local chapter that has been active for one year.

“It takes a lot of guts to step up for this sort of volunteer experience, to knock on a door and say, ‘Hi, I will be here once a week for the next year,” said Melissa Radloff, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Friends in Action, the nonprofit organization that oversees Legacy Corps.

The volunteers open themselves to building close friendships with families and becoming part of challenging situations, when a veteran has health issues. Often these are conditions that will not improve. Many will worsen. It can take a psychological toll.

For Cheryl Reusch, a member of the first “class” of Legacy Corps volunteers, feeling the value of her work and learning about the lives of other people are worth it.

“We all have challenges, and these families are working through theirs,” said Reusch. “It makes you think about what you would do if you were in their situation.”

“At some point in time, we will all be caregivers and care receivers. We just don’t know when that will be.”

Reusch has five children. She volunteered at her childrens’ schools and through her church, but she had never been part of a program as demanding as Legacy Corps.

When her youngest child graduated from high school, Reusch began looking for a way to get involved with community service. She searched the online site VolunteerMatch, which lists volunteer opportunities in communities across the U.S. She found Legacy Corps.

A LIFE OF TRAVEL

Reusch volunteers with two families through the program, one of which is Chuck and Margo Walter.

Chuck, 77, has Lewy body dementia, a combination of Parkinson’s and dementia. Margo is his full-time caregiver.

Reusch comes to the Walters’ house every Tuesday. She spends time with Chuck while Margo gets a break.

Margo uses the occasion of being alone, without having to make sure Chuck is OK, to get a lot of errands done quickly.

“I race from one thing to the next,” said Margot. “I fill the car with gas, go to the bank.”

Reusch typically takes Chuck for lunch at the senior center or for a haircut. Some days she reads aloud to him. When it was Margo’s birthday, she helped Chuck shop for a present. Sometimes, Reusch is just a safe presence in the Walter home while Chuck naps. Reusch reads her book.

“The consistency of Cheryl is so important,” said Margo, a retired learning specialist who still tutors students in her home.

“Cheryl is so good with Chuck. It was a match from the beginning.”

Chuck had a dazzling career, characterized by not a little glamour inside and outside the military. He started his Air Force career with posts in Germany and London.

“He had the first Corvette in Europe,” said Margo, “a red one with the white sidewalls. He had it shipped over.”

Margo was teaching in the Philippines, where they met. They discovered that their parents lived just an hour apart in Wisconsin. They got married, then lived in posts across the U.S. and around the world. Chuck eventually oversaw all the Air Force clubs worldwide. He retired as a colonel.

“He has a few feathers in his cap,” said Margo.

‘THIS UNUSUAL PATH’

Back in the states, Chuck ran more clubs, in L.A., in Palm Springs. He became a consultant to Boise’s Arid Club and then its manager in 2003, when the Walters moved to Boise. He retired in 2008.

“These people have traveled the world,” said Cheryl Reusch. “In their den is a map, ‘Chuck and Margo’s travels.’ Red pins mark all the places they’ve gone. The map is covered in red pins.”

After Chuck’s diagnosis, Margo converted their travel fund into what she calls their “wellness” fund.

Instead of airline tickets, she buys healing massages for both herself and Chuck, facials, tickets to Trey McIntyre and the symphony. They take walks every day and take classes at Idaho Athletic Club.

Cheryl’s presence is a part of their wellness.

“Cheryl, to me, is a friend who walks this unusual path with us,” said Margo. “She’s with us on this journey. She knows our needs and shares in our caring. She’s a keeper. She’s there for us.”

GIVING BACK

In addition to the in-home time, Legacy Corps volunteers receive a minimum of 72 hours of training — 20 hours before they ever meet with a family. Volunteers are trained on everything from CPR to interpersonal relationships.

Throughout their year of service, volunteers meet in groups once a month for additional training and support.

Volunteering is often in line with personal and professional goals. For example, said Radloff, one volunteer could not care for her own aging mother in another state.

“So being part of Legacy Corps is her way of giving back,” said Radloff.

Volunteers include social work and health care students who are exploring their potential fields. Legacy Corps provides hands-on experience.

NAVIGATING THE SYSTEM

The financial and physical strains on veteran caregivers are particularly challenging because of the range of medical conditions involved, said Radloff.

Caregivers of veterans report more than twice the emotional stress of caregivers of adults nationally, according to Legacy Corps, almost three times the level of physical strain, and almost four times the level of financial hardship.

“Plus, there’s the difficulty of navigating the VA benefit system. In no way does Legacy Corps attempt to replace VA services. It’s just trying to identify gaps and fill those gaps,” said Radloff.

Legacy Corps helps its volunteers. They get a monthly stipend to cover travel costs, lunches out with veterans and more. At the end of the year, if volunteers fulfill 450 hours of service, they receive a scholarship of $1,400. Volunteers 55 or older can pass the money on to a child or grandchild.

National Legacy Corps reviewers recently appraised the local program. It earned the highest, five-star rating.

“As a result, they charged us with expanding the program,” said Radloff.

Legacy Corps has eight Treasure Valley volunteers. It has space for 20. A new training session begins in January.

“We’re actively recruiting,” said Radloff.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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