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Helping Hands, Caring Hearts
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By Darlene L. Turner


“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve." 1Peter 5:2 (NIV)

Children love to run, jump, play hide and seek, and most of all—ride a bike. They have big dreams of an active life, filled with promises of a bright future. And then the unthinkable happens. They stumble, limbs weaken, and their balance is unsteady. Wham! Their world is shaken.

What do you do?

This is exactly what happened to Donna Froese of London, Ontario. At the age of 5, her kindergarten teacher noticed something off about her eyesight, and then at 12 her legs began to weaken. She needed to stop and rest twice on the way to the corner gas station. Gradually it became three or four times. Her balance grew unsteady. At age 17, she had a serious accident with her bike, causing her to “park it” forever. When asked how she took this news as a teenager, she replied, “I don’t remember that it was extremely hard, just something I accepted gradually. I’m sure my parents helped me with that.”

Donna accepted Christ at the age of 4 and she said with Jesus in her heart, it made a whole lot of difference. He became her constant companion, taking each step in her journey for her.

She was diagnosed around the age 40 with spinocerebellar degeneration (SCD)—a type of genetic disorder characterized by a progressive failure of muscle control in the arms and legs. It’s often associated with poor coordination of hands, speech, and eye movements.

SCD has also affected her eyesight and throat—weakening the muscles in both. She's now legally blind and requires everything to be "big and bold." A magnifying table with a closed circuit TV helps her with reading. Her speech is slow and slurred, which can be a challenge when trying to use her telephone’s voice-activated program. She jokes that sometimes it mistakenly calls the wrong person when her speech isn't up to par on a particular day. Oops!

What does the daily routine look like for someone with SCD? They rely on others. Caregivers. From the time Donna gets up in the morning until supper, she requires help getting dressed, showering, writing greeting cards, and feeding herself. Doing simple things we take for granted.

Participation House is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to people with significant physical and/or developmental disabilities (www.participationhouse.com). They send employees every morning to help Donna get ready for her day. They also cook her supper and put it in the fridge for her to eat later. These individuals help Donna significantly in her daily routine. However, even with this much-needed assistance, she felt something was missing.

About five years ago, Donna woke upset and scared. Worried about how she would feed herself that night, she mentioned this to her Participation House caregiver. That person suggested they reach out to Donna's church, Stoney Creek Baptist. They called and spoke to Mark Farrow, the lead pastor. Donna remembers the caregiver mentioning Mark having a “big heart” and wanting to help out. He spoke to Gwen Penny, the women’s coordinator at the church, and soon a schedule of volunteer caregivers was formed.

These volunteers come Monday to Friday and help feed Donna. Some bring their own suppers and eat with her, fellowshipping at the table. Others read to her, even memorizing scripture together. Whatever it is, Donna savors the time these caregivers sacrifice for her.

Not everyone would do so.

What makes a good caregiver?

Helpful hands. Caring and compassionate hearts. Friendship. And someone willing to give of his or her time. To be a good caregiver requires a kind heart. Not everyone has this gift. Or do they? Can it be learned?

Good question. Maybe. With Christ as our example and living in us, we can move toward the goal of helping others the way He did, shepherding His flock.

When asked what her life would be like without these volunteer caregivers, Donna jokingly said she’d have to eat wraps all the time and it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. On a serious note, she answered, “A person could always eat the same and live, but it’s nice to have a variety. But here’s my church family connection. I don’t go on Sunday mornings. So I would miss that fellowship. They come to me and it’s wonderful.”

So to Donna, it’s more than them just feeding her. She’d like to thank the caregivers God has placed in her journey: Gwen, Brenda, Liz, Lori, Barb, Rosanne, Dolcie, and Ross. Thank you for taking the time to feed her and most of all—be her friend. You mean the world to her. You’re family.

How about it? Let’s reach out to others and see how we can help.

We never know where our helping hands and caring hearts can be used of God. In Donna’s words, “Just come on board and do it!”

All will be blessed.