Hands-on experience

Three SMSU interns work in elder care giving

Photo by Karin Elton From left: Jamie Lanners, ACE volunteer; Rebekah Reynolds, Lyon County coordinator for ACE of SWMN; Shannon Blackwolf, SMSU senior who interned for ACE; Terri Downing, Community Transit volunteer coordinator; Shelly Pflaum, Community Transit access coordinator. This group is among those who work with the elderly in areas such as respite care or providing transportation and companionship for doctor visits.

MARSHALL — Nonprofits rely on volunteers and an agency that helps the elderly and their caregivers has been helped immensely by three Southwest Minnesota State University seniors.

“It has been an absolute godsend to have had three students help this semester,” said Rebekah Reynolds, Lyon County coordinator for ACE of SWMN. “They have been able to learn while helping our non-profit in elderly services and volunteerism grow, and we hope to grow the program even more.”

The need for elderly services is great and will only get more urgent in the future, said Reynolds.

“Statistics show that by 2030 there will be more people turning 85 than turning 18 so we need to build a structure on how we’re going to care for people, build a workforce and we need to entice young people to work in this field,” she said.

Reynolds said one of her regular volunteers and ACE advisory board member, Jaen Weilage, presented to a sociology class at SMSU and a connection was made that ACE was a place with a lot of volunteering opportunities. Students often need internships or community service hours.

One of the interns was Laurie Ourada, a sociology major

“Laurie spent the semester in dementia trainings, hands-on volunteerism and activities for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients, as well as providing insight as to what caregivers are lacking in our county,” said Reynolds. “She is a non-traditional student and also a caregiver for her mother who lives at home with her.”

Ourada received personal as well as professional insight from her experience.

“One of the most valuable pieces of information I gained was that of being a caregiver and how much support that Marshall area has to offer,” she said. “Attending ‘Powerful Tools for Caregivers’ was so empowering for me. I am a caregiver and felt lost in the system and so alone in my task. This class gave me some very powerful insight into how I can better care for myself and my loved one. Being a caregiver is demanding, overwhelming and stressful at times. Taking care of yourself as a caregiver isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Ourada received hands-on experience as an intern.

“As a sociology major with a passion in working with people, especially the senior population, my experience interning with ACE was very valuable,” she said. “My experiences included attending a class specifically for caregivers, a support group at Avera Courtyard Café which is held weekly for caregivers and I was able to attend Bone Builders, Tai Chi and board meetings at the YMCA. I planned activities and interacted with ACTive Memories Memory Café at the YMCA, Helped with NAPS food distribution, attended meetings for dementia awareness at Boulder Creek Assisted Living and helped to trouble shoot issues that caregivers deal with daily.”

Ourada valued Reynolds as a mentor.

“Rebekah Reynolds is an amazing woman who has a deep passion for helping people and building community,” she said. “ACE networks with several entities to promote advocacy, connecting resources and education of healthy lifestyle. Rebekah found several opportunities within the community for me to experience first hand what was going on and she always took time to explain to me what was expected of me and the program.”

Ourada would like to work in advocacy after graduation.

“I think it is important and is very much needed,” she said.

Reynolds worked closely with another intern.

“Shannon Blackwolf, a social work major from Redwood Falls, worked full-time with me,” Reynolds said. “She was able to set up a Facebook page, start a newsletter, assist with marketing, and assist with dementia trainings, balance training classes and caregiver classes and resources including respite companion certification.”

Blackwolf is now trained to facilitate that respite companion class.

“It’s been amazing. I received a lot of training including respite care,” Blackwolf said.

Another intern was able to use her skills to whip the ACE office into shape.

“Amber Demenge came to us from the accounting department,” said Reynolds. “She has provided insight and assistance with developing an organizational system for the ACE office, as well as input as to how to run and organize the office more efficiently. She had that vision of how to organize the office so that any volunteer coming in can see where they are needed.”

The collaboration with SMSU will continue.

“We are so grateful to them all, and so excited for what can happen with future partnering with SMSU and ACE to provide care and services to elderly people in our community living on their own,” Reynolds said. “We are looking at developing more internships with SMSU because we all need volunteers. There are seven counties included in ACE; I am Lyon County. We all need a non paid workforce to be doing at-home visits with people, offering respite care, teaching evidence-based classes, or reaching people who are trying to live well in their own home instead of going to a facility.”

Reynolds has been working with Dr. Cindy Aamlid, an SMSU sociology professor, who told her there are 10 departments at SMSU that have internships and volunteer hours as a requirement.

“They have to have that hands-on experience,” said Reynolds. “Do they like this? Do they not? They’re never going to get that experience from a book or watching videos.”