The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Ready to ride: When Cindy Wadach, left, pulls to the curb to pick up Colleen Hassett, she puts her flashing lights on so that Colleen knows it’s the right car. Colleen can’t distinguish colors.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Serious walker: While Colleen Hassett teaches Pilates at the Guilderland YMCA, her husband, Steve, goes for a four-mile walk outdoors. He does a 12 minute mile.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Role model: Facing a mirror, Colleen Hassett leads a Pilates class at the Guilderland YMCA.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Colleen Hassett leads a Pilates class at the Guilderland YMCA.

In the course of three days in June 2010, Colleen Hassett lost her eyesight. After two weeks in the hospital trying to figure out what happened — several diseases and conditions were tested for: multiple sclerosis, lupus, scleroderma, vitamin deficiency, etc., etc. — all tests proved negative.

Colleen was a nurse and knew better than most how to navigate the medical field. After she was sent home, she saw a neuro-ophthalmologist. She’s also seeing a retina specialist and a vision therapist.

On a recent visit to her doctor he said, “You are a miracle.”

Optic nerves do not heal. Hers has to a degree.

“Now,” says Colleen, “I have some vision. So the question is: Do you go further trying to figure out what happened?”

What does her life look like? What kind of help does she need?

Colleen can’t drive, hike, or see color; she’s reluctant to go on vacations in strange places. She graduated from a Northeast Association of the Blind program.  “I can cross streets and I can take a bus,” she says.

Colleen teaches yoga and Pilates at the Guilderland YMCA. When she lost her sight and for four months, she took time off. Then the Y urged her to come back. She could ask the class members for help if she needed something, they told her.

Friends; relatives; neighbors; and her husband, Steve, took her places. She contacted Community Caregivers and was approved for service, but she didn’t need us then with all her friends and family helping her. When her family left, Caregivers came back into the picture.

Her husband had a goal for her: Get out of the house every day. So Caregivers and friends and her husband take her to doctors’ appointments, the Guilderland Library where she reads and chooses new books, the YMCA where she teaches and works out, shopping centers, etc. Usually CC provides one-way transportation and her husband or friends do the return to home.

At home, Colleen has a room, a studio really, where she meditates, chants, does yoga, and prays. She cooks. When she reads, which she does a lot, she holds the book very close to her eyes.

With corrective lenses her vision is 20/60 and 20/400. As you can realize, Colleen is dependent on others. She’s used to giving help, not taking it. And she worries how people are responding to her.

“I’m essentially still the same,” she says. “Asking for help is horrible. Not being able to drive is a big deal, and it makes me feel older just because most people who don’t drive are older.” Colleen was 51 when she lost her sight.

Consummate volunteer

This story came about  as a result of a project the Community Caregivers staff took on for the gala fundraiser in November 2016. Certain care receivers and volunteers agreed to complete a questionnaire that would be used to highlight and inform gala attendees of the kind of work CC does. Colleen; her husband; and Cindy Wadach, her Caregivers volunteer, came to the event. Colleen and Cindy stood and read their stories to the audience.

Cindy started volunteering with Caregivers in 2006. Prior to that, as the director of Senior Services for the town of Guilderland, she made transportation referrals to CC. She said she was so impressed with the organization she decided to volunteer with us when she retired.

However, that year her brother died unexpectedly. “As a way of channeling my grief…and as a way to honor his memory” she said, she made time to volunteer while still working full-time — about two hours a week.

Then in 2013, Cindy did retire and called Mary Morrison, the Client/Volunteer coordinator at Caregivers, and said, “Give me more clients.” One was Colleen

Cindy has three regular clients, volunteers about 12 hours a month for CC, and averages 200 miles of driving. Cindy actually volunteers for five organizations, including Caregivers: the Guilderland Food Pantry, the Guilderland Public Library, the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, and Home Delivered Meals out of Albany County.

In Colleen’s case “…an unexpected fringe benefit occurred,” said Cindy. They became good friends.

Both have a good sense of humor. Both love seeing live dance performances as well as “Dancing with the Stars.” They’re both vegetarians and have the same favorite pizza restaurant. They also have friends in common.

Cindy says she’s always had the volunteer spirit. “The most important thing in life is helping people,” she says. “I’m fortunate and in good health. I want to share what I have.” There’s a social component, too, she says. “I can’t stress that enough.”

I asked Cindy why she thinks it’s hard for people to ask for help. “In a word – Pride,” she said. “People don’t want to admit they need help. They would say, ‘Others need help more than I do.’” Cindy’s advice is “Reach out. There’s strength in admitting you need help.” She believes, if the situation were reversed, help would be given.

Since Cindy has been transporting Colleen, some role reversals have occurred. They went to see a common friend who was in hospice, she recalled. “That was a time when Colleen helped me. She was emotionally stronger. A few month back,” Cindy added, “I wasn’t feeling well. Colleen and her husband came and took me to Urgent Care.”

As an almost full-time volunteer, Cindy admits it feels good to know you’re needed. “Volunteering makes you feel so good,” she says. “I’m surprised more people don’t do it.”

Colleen’s experience with Caregivers isn’t typical, nor is it unheard of though. Mary Morrison said there are eight to 10 clients who have received services over a period of years. The same volunteer could take you to the Y, for dialysis treatment, or visit with you, for instance.

Marriage bond

The final part of this story is about Colleen’s husband, Steve, who is also a caregiver.

When his wife called him to say her vision just got blurry, Steve told her to call the ophthalmologist. The next time Colleen called him, it was to say her vision was really bad; things were gray but she could still see light. The third time she called, and since the doctor didn’t have room for her, they went to the emergency room.

As Steve reflects on this event, he remembers trying to be calm and trying to imagine what his wife was seeing. He said, “As a caregiver, you can only stand there and watch. You feel helpless.” Steve watched as the hospital staff checked for everything under the sun to figure out what happened to Colleen’s sight.

Once all the tests were over and no critical issues were evident and he knew she wouldn’t die, he started to reorient her. He saw her other senses were noticeably enhanced. When they walked in the hall, for example, she could feel where the doorways were because of the difference in the air temperature.

During this time, Colleen’s father died. Steve didn’t tell her. The hospital was still performing tests to determine what caused her loss of sight.

When Colleen went home, she was shaky. The first day, she passed out; two days later, the same thing happened. Apparently, this was due to the meds and anxiety.

During this time, Steve says, “I was scared.”  Once the meds got adjusted and Colleen was more stable, people started reaching out to her. “You have no idea the number of people who volunteered to help,” he said.

One such person was a neighbor who was connected to the New York State Commission for the Blind. His job, Steve said, was to assist people with impairments. “His observation was that Colleen was already doing 95 percent better than most people he visited.”

Also during this time, Steve said he felt afraid. “You worry about your partner. What happens if she’s gone? You wouldn’t really think this way at our age.” Steve was 52 at the time.

He took two-and-a-half months off from work. When he did go back, it was to a different job and then only half time. He kept that arrangement for a minimum of 10 months.

On the home front, Steve’s goal was to get Colleen out of the house every day. When he went back to work full-time, he knew enough to not overextend himself. But travel was tough. Fortunately, his new job with Union College allowed him to shift fields so he didn’t have to be away.

From Steve’s perspective being a caregiver takes patience. His mother had Progressive Supernuclear Palsy, known as PSP, so he had experience helping her.

Steve, who is a member of the New York National Guard, said, “In sports and at work and in the military, I am proactive,” he said. “I am not a patient guy. I don’t wait for the ball to come to me.” He confessed,  “The hard part is not doing something because of her.”

As Steve considers this journey, he shared his philosophy: “Compromise — it’s not just about me, it’s about us.”

They talk over decisions, although he said they always did that before.  And he tries to anticipate issues. He tries to protect Colleen physically and psychologically.  In the back of his mind, though, his fear is, “What would happen if something happens to me?”

Throughout all of this, people are in the wings. “People step up,” he said. “My faith in humanity hasn’t always been there.”

Postscript

Since the initial interview with Colleen and Steve, I’ve learned more. Colleen’s sight has improved from the original event, but she still can’t see expressions on faces or the colors red, orange, and pink. She has to be close up to see.

At one pizza place she frequents, they have ingredients you can choose listed in the front of the window case. She can actually see her choice. She rejoices at this thoughtfulness.

Colleen volunteers at the Food Co-op every Friday for about four hours. “They’re wonderful,” she says. “They’re kind. They provide a challenge.” She meets customers and helps them. A neighbor  volunteers at the co-op at the same time and takes Colleen with her.

Colleen emphasizes she really doesn’t want to rely solely on her husband. “That’s why Community Caregivers and my friends are so important.”

Steve and Colleen are frequently at Starbucks. Steve says it’s a relaxing space for him and a place where they can socialize. “It’s like the show, ‘Cheers’.”

Community Caregivers may be able to help you if you need assurance visits, transportation, respite, shopping, assurance calls, paperwork, chores, meals, light housekeeping. Services are provided by volunteers, there is no fee for services, and we help all ages. Volunteers decide what services they will provide and when they’re available to help. The office team connects the clients and volunteers. To learn more go to the website: www.communitycaregivers.org or call (518) 456-2898 to find out more about our services and to volunteer.

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Each April, our organization, Community Caregivers, celebrates National Volunteer Month with a luncheon and program with a guest speaker. We like to think (although you would need to a confirm this with one of our volunteers) that we appreciate Community Caregivers’ volunteers year-round. About 50 volunteers usually attend this fun event, which this year is on Wednesday, April 26, at the Hampton Inn in Albany.

Treating each volunteer like a treasure is also in our best interest; our service model of “neighbor helping neighbor” is totally volunteer-driven. While our professional staff offers program guidance, day-to-day help is generously provided by volunteers. We encourage Community Caregivers volunteers to serve on schedules that fit into their busy lives.

Nationally, we know that 62 million Americans — about one-quarter of the adult population — volunteers during a given year. We also know that that percentage has fallen off a bit in recent years: volunteerism reached its peak in the years following the 9/11 attacks.

Locally, we still find the desire to serve community and fellow citizens in need to be strong. We offer volunteer orientations twice a month in our office and other sessions upon request.

Individuals may find us through word of mouth, or often, through The Altamont Enterprise. We also have a partnership with the Service Learning program at Albany Medical College where future physicians volunteer with us.

We seek to work with area employers, like the State Employees Federal Credit Union that offer release time for their employees to volunteer during the work day. In addition, Community Caregivers participates with our local RSVP program, which places volunteers age 55 and older in interesting and varied volunteer roles at agencies throughout the Capital District.  

If you or someone you know wants to know more about volunteering with Community Caregivers or wants tips to get started volunteering, please feel free to contact me at .

We really hope that you can find the way that is right for you to give back to your community.

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical  services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

Our funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging. To find out more about our services, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit www.communitycaregivers.org or call us at (518) 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education coordinator for Community Caregivers.

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— Photo by Greg Goutos

All smiles: Ruth Cawley, right, is awarded a raffle prize bay Amélie Ribesse, an exchange student from Belgium who attends Guilderland High School.

— Photo by Greg Goutos

Wearing red jackets, Guilderland High School Key Club members, Victoria Nemeth and Kayleigh Chamberlain, serve an Italian dinner to Omni resident Rose Lundgren.

GUILDERLAND — The 16th Annual Italian Night at the Omni was held on Saturday, April 1. The event was sponsored by Community Caregivers, a not-for-profit organization based in Guilderland.

Over 50 residents of the Omni Senior Living Community on Carman Road in Guilderland enjoyed a complimentary three-course Italian dinner, served by several students from the Guilderland High School Key Club. Staff members from the Caregivers’ office and other volunteers assisted with the food preparation and the serving of the meal.     

This year’s theme was “Spring is in the Air.” The Omni community room was decorated with colorful banners, and each table had a vase of daffodils to brighten everyone’s spirits. After the meal, Omni residents took the flowers back to their rooms.

The evening began with the introduction of Mary Therriault, one of the co-founders who started the Community Caregivers organization in Altamont in 1994. She welcomed the seniors and talked about the types of services the organization offers that might benefit them, as well as ways they could get involved, such as serving as volunteers.

Community Caregivers, located at 2021 Western Ave. in Guilderland, provides non-medical services to Albany County residents by matching local volunteers with nearby clients.

After dessert was served, the seniors waited in excited anticipation to hear if their names were called out to receive one of the many raffle prizes generously donated by area businesses. A special moment for all was to have the prize handed out by Amelie Ribesse, an exchange student from Belgium who attends Guilderland High School.

We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the 13 volunteers who participated, with a special thank-you to Key Club students Victoria Nemeth and Kayleigh Chamberlain, as well as Amelie Ribesse.

Staff members from the Caregivers’ office who helped coordinate the event and prepared portions of the meal, included Mary Morrison and Petra Malitz.  Also involved were Nancy Griffith, Mary Therriault, Tom Morrison, Sandra, Mary DeAngelis, and Nellie and Greg Goutos.

Special recognition is due to Mary McGann, the Omni resident who has helped as the on-site coordinator for the event for the past several years.

Much of the food for the dinner was generously donated by area restaurants. We especially acknowledge The 99 Restaurant on Wolf Road for its ongoing support. Also, thank you to Bountiful Bread and to Stewart’s for their contributions.

Raffle prizes were donated by these local businesses: Carman Wine & Liquor, Robinson’s Hardware, Candy Kraft, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Pizza Gram Plus, Marotta’s Towne Pizza, Bamboo Chinese Restaurant, The 99 Restaurant, Price Chopper/Market 32, Hannaford, and The Altamont Enterprise.

For more information about Community Caregivers, please contact the office at (518) 456-2898, or online at communitycaregivers.org.

Editor’s note: Greg Goutos is a Community Caregivers volunteer.

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With the state’s new Paid Family Leave program set to begin in January 2018, the state Workers’ Compensation Board and the Department of Financial Services filed their regulations for implementation of the new law. The regulations will provide guidance for employers, employees, and insurance carriers about their responsibilities and rights under the law.

Paid family leave will be available for three major categories: care for a newborn, care for a family member with a serious medical condition, or providing care while a family member is away for military service.

Workers are expected to provide employers 30 days’ notice with a request for paid family leave unless an unexpected medical situation developed.

A new website provides information on medical documentation required for taking the leave: www.ny.gov/paidfamilyleave

The program opens on Jan. 1, 2018 and employees who have worked for at least 26 weeks with their employer on a full-time basis or 175 days on a part-time basis. Employees are able to take up to eight weeks off at half of their salary.

The benefit will be phased in over four years when employees are eligible to take up to 12 weeks off in 2021. In 2019 and 2020, employees can take up to 10 weeks off. The program was passed last year by the State Legislature and provides some of the most generous benefits of those states that have similar laws.

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New  Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

Our funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging and the United States Administration on Aging. To find out more about our services, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit www.communitycaregivers.org or call us at (518) 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Michael Burgess volunteers for Community Caregivers.

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Community Caregivers is cosponsoring two interesting community workshops for lifelong learners this month.

The first is on Creating a Meaningful Retirement and is designed for individuals who are contemplating retirement or who are recently retired. This workshop will explore the changing definition of retirement and its transformation by the Baby Boomer generation.

We offer this workshop with our cosponsors — the Bethlehem Public Library and Bethlehem Senior Services — and expert presenters Jon Allen, retirement transition coach, and Audrey Seidman, spiritual director.  It will be held Tuesday evening, March 21, at 7 p.m. at the Bethlehem Public Library.

If this topic intrigues you, as it has the Baby Boomers in our office, please register by calling the library at (518) 439-9314 or by going online at www.bethlehempubliclibrary.org

For the second workshop, we are joining forces with Albany Medical College’s Division of Community Outreach and Medical Education, the Schaffer Library of Health Sciences at Albany Medical College, and the Guilderland Public Library. The workshop, Navigating the Healthcare Maze, will be held on Saturday, March 25, at 11 a.m. at the Guilderland Public Library.

Participants in this workshop will learn how to navigate online health information and ask important follow-up questions during medical appointments. Many of us are confused by medical terminology but are reluctant to ask for clarification.

This interactive workshop will help participants become effective health advocates for themselves or on behalf of a loved one. This workshop is funded in part by the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health under a cooperative agreement with the University of Pittsburgh, and the Health Sciences Library System.

You may register for this valuable health-information workshop by calling the Guilderland Public Library at (518) 456-2400 or by going online at www.guilpl.org.

Offering educational programs to community members is part of Community Caregivers’ ongoing mission. We hope that each of these programs sparks interest and good conversations.

Please join us. Consider volunteering with us. Studies show that being a good neighbor and volunteering can lead you to live a longer, healthier, happier life!

We offer a welcoming and flexible volunteer experience, helping our neighbors with everyday needs. Sessions for prospective volunteers take place in our office at 2021 Western Ave. in Suite 104. The sessions last about one hour and registration is required.

Orientation sessions are offered the first Tuesday of spring months — April 4, May 2, or June 6, at 10 a.m. They are also offered at noon on the third Thursday — April 20, May 18, or June 15.

For more information or to register, call (518) 456-2898 or go online to .

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical  services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New  Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors.

Our funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging. To find out more about our services, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit www.communitycaregivers.org or call us at (518) 456-2898.

Editor’s note: Linda Miller is the Outreach and Education coordinator for Community Caregivers.

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