Interfaith caregivers celebrate 20 years of service

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published August 10, 2012

 Leslie Chapman, of Warren, left, and Kathleen Speck, a volunteer with Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, sort through vegetables harvested from a community garden that benefits the program. The IVC program celebrated 20 years of service Aug. 9 with an ice cream social.

Leslie Chapman, of Warren, left, and Kathleen Speck, a volunteer with Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, sort through vegetables harvested from a community garden that benefits the program. The IVC program celebrated 20 years of service Aug. 9 with an ice cream social.

Photo by Donna Agusti

WARREN — Imagine needing to go to the doctor without a means to drive yourself, without family members to take you and without an adequate bus route to help get you there.

Imagine needing a ride to get groceries or a prescription under those circumstances, or needing help with basic chores that family, friends and other community-based services would not or could not provide.

Those are just a few of the things Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers have provided for those in need across Macomb County for 20 years.

The Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers staff and their volunteers hosted an open-house gathering with the people they serve on Aug. 9, celebrating two decades of gap-filling volunteerism that helps older and disabled adults stay comfortable in their own homes.

The need is very real: Just ask Maggie Wojcik, who has called to arrange transportation to and from her doctor’s office and for other needed errands since 2009.

Wojcik, 86, of Warren, lived life as a homemaker with her husband until he passed away in 1989. She has a driver’s license, but has no working vehicle, and receives regular treatment for angina and other conditions that require her to travel to see her longtime doctor in Southfield.

She credited her Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers driver with not only getting her there, but also with helping her into the office and getting her home safely.

“It’s a beautiful program. I can’t put it into words — it’s such a good one,” Wojcik said. “The way I look at it, it can’t get any better. It’s just as good as can be. I just never run across a program like this, or never heard of one.”

Of course, the driving force behind what Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers does is its army of volunteers.

Executive Director Karyn Dombrowski-Curro said between 600 and 700 people serve as volunteers for Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers each year.

Some offer to regularly drive neighbors in need to stores to run errands and to appointments. Others sign on to tackle specific projects with a group from a church or other organization. Sometimes, people offer to perform chores as needed on a case-by-case basis.

Dombrowski-Curro said the volunteers of all types — men and women, from all age groups — have helped to make the program a success for 20 years.

“The mission we set out to do was to provide help to older and disabled adults who are trying to stay in their homes as long as possible,” Dombrowski-Curro said. “We’re trying to meet the needs of those who are living in their house or apartment, living in the community, and can continue to do so with a little extra help.

“We’re basically providing a matchmaking service between volunteers who have a little time to share and people who are in need.”

Warren resident Gil Schramm happily found his role as a volunteer with Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers in 2004.

A 70-year-old skilled building trades retiree, Schramm said 90 percent of what he does as a volunteer involves driving.

But what drives him to do it is his place in life, and a continued desire to interact with others in his free time.

“While I’m comfortable, I should help make other people comfortable, like pay it forward,” Schramm said. “It makes retirement more interesting. I get to meet very interesting people. Everyone has their own story to tell, and I like to hear it.”

Dombrowski-Curro said more volunteers are needed in Macomb County, and in Oakland County, where Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers has begun extending its reach.

She said the program has grown about 40 percent over the last four years, and they always try to maximize the effectiveness of their available resources by referring potential clients to existing specialized resources first and then filling in the gaps with volunteers when necessary.

She said the program is based on the core values of service and support that are at the very center of different religious faiths.

Volunteers provide a total of more than 15,000 hours of service annually — everything from minor repairs and chores, to transportation, meal preparation, and supportive phone calls — for more than 500 adults.

“Over the last four years, we’ve grown significantly, despite the challenges of a tough economy,” Dombrowski-Curro said. “We’ve been able to reach out to the community, becoming more efficient. We’re celebrating that we’ve grown steadily. We’ve had a strong increase recently, and we’re looking forward.”

That’s good news for residents like Wojcik.

“I will never forget these people as long as I live. I could not have done it without them,” Wojcik said. “I don’t know what would have happened to me. When you don’t have much of a family, it’s really tough. And I mean bad. I sit here in this house.

“I’m going to tell the truth: I could not have got to the doctor’s without them,” Wojcik said.

To learn more about Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, including volunteer opportunities, or to request assistance, call (586) 757-5551 or visit www.ivcinfo.org.