By Brad Fenske, Day Supports Coordinator
In the fall of 1989, I was given the unique opportunity to be a part of Hammer’s new Day Support Services. This program was one of the first in the area to look provide care for both retired individuals and those without day placement services. The first retiree I supported was Hammer’s own Ralph Rosenvold. Ralph was loved by all for his spoon and bones playing, organ music, and fun loving personality. Ralph was also the first of many individuals to go directly from Hammer’s Day Support Services to hospice care at his Hammer home.
In addition to Ralph, the program also served many high school kids on break and individuals transitioning from their school years. When school closed for the summer, attendance at Day Support Services filled up with energetic teenagers who always wanted to be on the go. We spent our summers at the State Fair, Como Park, MN Zoo, etc. These individuals also helped cook hot lunches for the group and worked on job skills such as collating and filing. For me, this was a blast. I started at Hammer on the Boys Floor, and now they were all back under my support five days a week.
Back then, Hammer’s Day Support Services was unique because our focus was on getting the individuals we supported to participate in the wider community as often as possible. Most programs in the area were site-based where individuals went and participated in activities without having much interaction with their community. In fact, other organizations started touring our program to see what we were doing and get ideas they could implement at their own programs.
As the years have passed, the group dynamics have drastically changed. We now serve all adults (retirees, individuals on a break or without a job). Dementia, Alzheimer’s and the needs of aging adults have become a huge focus at the Day Program and at Hammer in general. The same young men I worked with on Boys Floor are now coming to my program in the throes of advanced Alzheimer’s and are needing care from someone they still remember and know. Because of our nearly lifelong relationships and smaller group setting, we have helped individuals thrive when they were no longer able to in their former day support program. They participate in their community as much as possible until they are no longer able to do so. After they leave our care, many individuals begin hospice at their home, often for less than a couple months before passing.
It’s so important that we are able to keep these individuals active and enjoying their hobbies and interests until they transition to hospice. It can be a daily challenge to support those we have come to love in their final days, but we consider it a sincere privilege. We have the joy of seeing individuals bowl for the last time, strum a guitar song for the last time, enjoy time with our therapy dog Dottie for the last time, and visit with old staff and friends at Hammer’s main building for the last time. At the same time, we also support these individuals through the confusion, fear and anxiety that comes with dementia and with most daily personal cares.
There have been years where we lose many of our loved individuals in a short period of time. This past year or so alone, we have lost Don, Jim F, Jim L, Laurie, James, and Alfred. Some of these individuals were at the Day Support Services for over 10 years, others for months. All were loved and cared for as you would care for someone truly special and close to you in their final days.
On behalf of the staff at our Day Support Services, I thank all the families who have shared loved ones with us these past 25 years. Even If it was just for an interim period or to spend their last days, each person has touched us deeply and changed our lives. As humans, this shared experience has made us all better. We love more deeply, serve more humbly and live more purposefully. What we do with our lives matters, and I am glad to have spent a good part of my life at Hammer.