My friend Betsy was an amazing woman. She enjoyed swimming, opera and cooking. She was extremely funny and intelligent, and had a deep and abiding faith. Betsy lived alone, her husband had passed and her children and grandchildren lived far away. Betsy and I attended the same church and our paths periodically crossed on different committees and at various events. Betsy’s health started to fail and soon she was no longer able to drive. It was at this point that I had the opportunity to spend a more focused time with her. Betsy needed rides to doctors’ appointments, someone to grocery shop and run errands with her. From time to time she needed a little company and some prayer. My church's Caritas ministry created a team of people to provide support and care for Betsy. I became the leader of that team.
Caritas is a Latin word, and the definition is, love for all. I love that our church chose to use this word for a ministry in which we share in the care of others. Other organizations refer to this ministry as Support Teams or Care Teams. Our church's ministry was based on the Support Team Network model of caring for others. The Support Team Network was started by Rev. Malcom Marler, the Director of Pastoral Care, at the University of Alabama-Birmingham hospital. The foundation of Support Teams is to provide specific care and support to those who need it. Support Teams do not provide medical or financial support. The care and support provided is done by bringing together people who are willing to share their gifts, by doing what they love to do, when they have time to do it, in a coordinated way. The Support Team model is versatile and flexible and can help in infinite situations.
I was fortunate to be able to attend a Support Team training led by Rev. Marler and his team in Birmingham. I now train others on the benefits of Support Teams and how to create them and help them thrive in their communities. In addition, I have been a part of the leadership team for the ministry at my church. I have led teams, I have been a team member and I have even, after the birth of my daughter, received the care of a team.
There is no end to the many different ways that the Support Team model can be used to provide support and care for others. I know of a team that was created for a single dad and his teen daughter who became pregnant. The team provided support to the new grandfather in the form of meals, prayers and companionship. For the new mother, team members helped her through her pregnancy and taught her how to care for her new baby. Some team members helped her keep up with her schoolwork so, that after the baby was born, she could return to school. Other team members provided childcare so that the grandfather and new mom could have a little break from time to time.
There was a team that provided care to the residents of a small nursing home. The team members took turns visiting the residents, and hosted birthday and holiday parties. Some team members shared their gift of music, others their gift of listening. Some team members, who were home-bound, called, handcrafted gifts and sent cards to the residents.
My children and I were blessed to be a part of one of my favorite examples of a support team. Our care receivers were a beautiful brown lab dog and her owner. The dog had a treatable form of cancer and required daily transportation for chemo and radiation treatments over an extended period of time. Her owner worked full time and needed help in getting this big bundle of joy to her treatments. The team members took the treasured pet for her treatments and provided the owner some caring support. When the treatments were finished, the owner threw a celebration that the entire team attended. My children and I still talk about this experience and the many wonderful ways that it touched our family.
An essential piece of a Support Team is the community that the teams create. A group of people come together to provide support and care. In the process the team members create a caring environment for the person who receives the care and, just as significant, for each other. Relationships, friendships and community are created. In a time when isolation and loneliness are on the rise, Support Teams offer an opportunity to help people make vital connections with others.
I believe that the person that I have become is a product of my education, my experiences, and the people in my life. The people that I have met through training, leading, and participating in Support Teams have made a significant positive impact on my life. I pray that others are able to experience the same. That is why I am committed to share this model of care with others.
Whenever Betsy would find a quote or bible verse that she felt someone needed to hear, she would write it on a card and send it to them. Out of the blue, I would receive a letter in the mail from her. I would open it up and read the exact thing that I needed for support in that moment. That is what Suport Teams are all about.