by Joshua Jerome
BARRE — There’s a place in downtown Barre where everyday people come together to share food, sing, dance and play games. And no, it’s not one of our great restaurants or pubs, but Project Independence, Vermont’s first adult day service.
Project Independence was founded by Lindsey Wade who was a licensed nursing assistant at Berlin Health and Rehabilitation Center. Her experience and interactions with an aging population showed her that some people needed more social interaction and as a result, created Project Independence. Today, Project Independence is located near the heart of downtown Barre and has become an important resource for seniors seeking companionship in addition to physical therapy, cognitive stimulation and nutritional support. The organization is run by nine staff members and an energetic cadre of volunteers.
For breakfast, lunch and a snack, participants are treated to some delicious culinary creations from their head chef Pam Bresette. For many who are unable to prepare food as they once did at their home, Project Independence allows participants to help prepare meals, which creates dignity and a sense of accomplishment. In fact, many participants’ family members will join them for a meal, which allows for a rich experience for all at their table, as conversations are sparked of the days of yesterday.
There are several smaller groups such as the “Red Hat Club,” where a group of ladies adorn themselves with red hats and work together in crafting projects or the “Men’s Group” who gather and discuss topics of the day and shared experiences. The executive director, Dee Collins, explained to me that these types of interactions with peers can be “magical moments that might not otherwise happen.” And since there is no segregation of participants according to their ability, group activities such as field trips and chair yoga allow for diversity and a fuller experience. In fact, they even produce plays with their next coming up on September 25 at 2 p.m.
Despite having such a significant role in the lives of their participants, many who suffer with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and other debilitating physical and cognitive disorders, it is difficult to be fully recognized for their contribution in our present health care model. They rely completely on donated furniture and cooking supplies while volunteers come in and provide entertainment and educational classes. Project Independence has nine employees (of which seven are full-time) and allows for a one-to-four ratio between staff and participants. I myself have volunteered in the kitchen and have witnessed the rewarding and magical experiences that take place at Project Independence.
Project Independence moved to its current location on North Main Street back in 2010, but flooding in 2011 caused severe damage putting the organization on a tenuous financial path. A partnership was sought and in 2014 the Gifford Retirement Community, a part of Gifford Health Care, came aboard as partner. The partnership allows for shared resources in staffing and administration and this sharing has contributed to Project Independence’s greater financial stability.
Not only is the work that Project Independence does rewarding for staff and participants, but also for all of the caregivers whose loved ones enjoy the services that are provided. There is even a caregiver support group that meets once a month to provide encouragement and networking opportunities. The work that Project Independence provides is challenging, but rewarding and has proven to show a positive increase in the health and well-being of its participants while being able to reduce the number of emergency room visits. The role of adult day services like Project Independence will become even more critical as baby boomers age and I thank them for the services they provide our great community.