Grateful Donor Helps Expand Services at Adult Respite Center

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(Contributed Photo)
LARC benefactor Gina Vadnais says staff member Cookie Ragen (left) “has been such a vital part of the program” and motivated Vadnais’ husband Tom (right) to become a regular participant.

    Gina Vadnais was so grateful for the care Lamorinda Adult Respite Center (LARC) gave her husband Tom, she provided the bulk of funds which will allow the center to double the number of people it is able to serve.
    Gina Vadnais’ $100,000 donation toward the construction of the Tom Vadnais Community Care Room represents half the total cost of the project, and will increase to 30 the number of participants the center can serve every week.  
    Tom Vadnais, who passed away Nov. 2, 2017, had dementia and Gina was his caregiver. In a Jan. 4 ceremony to dedicate the room, Gina Vadnais praised the LARC staff. 
    “I started in the caregivers support group first and never thought Tom would go, but he tried it and never stopped attending. The LARC ladies treat everyone as they are normal, meeting them wherever they are in their journey,” says Gina, a former Moraga resident who now lives in Arizona. “For me, the respite I was provided as a caregiver was invaluable and gave me the strength to continue. I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep Tom at home as long if I didn’t have that time to myself to regroup.”
    LARC began at Orinda’s Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church in 1997. Juanita Gilbertson, one of the founders, remembers at a meeting it was brought up that the group did a lot of things for young people but not for the older generation. 
    “In one of our families, the husband had dementia and there was no place in our area for him to go. We assessed the need, visited facilities which had viable programs, and opened our door for one day a week with the first two participants. I’ve seen it grow to five days a week with 15 coming and now we’ll have 30,” says Gilbertson.
    Gilbertson says the program has blossomed under the leadership of Director Beth Montgomery.
    “LARC does not cure dementia but what we offer — socialization, exercise and stimulating brain activities — can help slow cognitive decline and improve overall health,” says Montgomery. “Many of our participants don’t realize that LARC is a dementia care program. They think they’re ‘just fine.’ Some call LARC their social club or senior group.  Others say it is a recreation center or their brain fitness class. We don’t care what they call us, just that they come and have fun.”
    About Tom Vadnais, Montgomery says, “He had been a business man and thought he was a volunteer here. He knew other workers got performance evaluations so he told me he wanted one too. I worked one out for him and said we’d do it on Monday. It was a hectic day, and I wondered how I would fit it in, but I did.”
    “Tom gave thoughtful and helpful answers. It brought him back to where he once was for a time and validated him.  I think that incident was the most rewarding of all the nine years I’ve been at LARC.  It reminded me of how valuable each participant is in ways we might not expect and we certainly always need to treat them with respect and compassion,” says Montgomery.
    It was Montgomery’s idea to take two small, unused rooms and turn them into a new meeting space by taking down a wall. However, it wasn’t that simple as the county required them to bring many other things up to code. 
    “Gina never hesitated in seeing the project to completion, and we’ll be eternally grateful to her and her generosity,” Montgomery says.
    Daily activities include games, art, crafts, gardening projects, pet visits, inter-generational activities, chair exercises, yoga and daily live musical entertainment. Participants recently made no-sew fleece blankets that were sent to wounded U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. 
    “These projects build self-esteem and show that our folks are still a vital and contributing part of society,” says Montgomery.
    Alzheimer’s and related dementias such as Parkinson’s and strokes are on the rise. By providing stimulating activities for participants, LARC gives respite during the hours of the program to caregivers.  Also, there is a Caregivers Coffee-A Caring Conversation, which meets 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the church, 433 Moraga Way.  Caregivers may attend whether they have a loved one in LARC or not.  
    “Most families come to us with caregivers a bit frazzled and the participants bored, says Montgomery. “Within a short amount of time of being at LARC, I see caregivers doing better and feeling better for having free time without worry about their loved one. I consistently receive feedback that our participants eat and sleep better and have an improved mood after a day at LARC.”
    Carolyn Bauer, an activity leader, says, “I love to sing and dance, which are part of the program. I started out as a volunteer, but soon was hired because they needed more staff.  It’s important to me because I so enjoy the close friendships with our folks and with fellow staff members. Being an integral part of the lives of our participants is truly a privilege. This program is totally a win/win situation.”
    The center is accepting applications in the new space for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 254-3465 for an application. The program runs 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The fee is $70 a day and the first day is free.
    LARC is a privately funded, non-profit project. It receives financial support from many trusts and organizations such as the Orinda Community Foundation, Rossmoor Rotary Foundation, Lafayette Community Foundation, Moraga Movers, Orinda Women’s Club, PG&E, local community supporters, and the Tom Vadnais Family. 
    The Holy Shepherd Church is a supporter under the leadership of Pastor John Valentine. 
    For more information, contact LARC at larc@holyshepherd.org, www.lamorindarespite.org or 925-254 3465.

(Contributed Photo)
Tom and Gina Vadnais both benefited from the Lamorinda Adult Respite Center program, with Tom enjoying activities and social engagement and Gina finding respite as Tom’s caregiver.

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