A Village of Angels

Sounds pretty nice, huh?  A village of angels.

Well, that just happens to be what I’ve landed in!

You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Well, that works at the other extreme of our lives’ stories as well.  As we age, it often takes a village to love one another well, to get to really know and appreciate each other, offer support when needed and desired, and share with generous spirits when some of our lives veer off into sometimes cruel detours brought on by poor health or deep, aching loss.

I made it to the CARE Center (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) last week.  CARE is unique.  It is the only place in the country (maybe even the world) that offers assistance to RV’ers who need to stay in one place for a time for medical reasons.  It is actually open to non-RV’ers, as well, but the vast majority of residents have RV backgrounds of one variety or another.

Residents live in their own homes.  Their RVs–which have ramps built next to them for safe access–surround the main facility that houses the dining hall, multi-activities room, and nursing and administrative offices.  CARE also offers a daily care (ADC) program for people needing more concentrated assistance.  For more details, you can visit their website at www.escapeescare.org.

But CARE is much more than you will ever find on a website or in a brochure.  Most of the residents share a common love of travel, of RV’ing and camping–some for vacations or extended travel and many for full-time living.  This common element is a special glue that helps to bond the program’s participants–residents, ADC, staff, and volunteers–together.  Honestly, in my former work I encountered a great many people in a variety of retirement and assisted living communities, and I’ve never seen this kind of cohesiveness.  People here truly care for one another, watch out for each other, and give of themselves to the best of their ability.

The angel in this picture was made by a beautiful, extraordinary lady who attends the ADC program.  Her name is Frances.  She gave it to me as a thank you gift for helping her during the bingo game–I was her lucky sidekick who helped break her losing streak with a two-game win.

But what she gave me was worth more than she knows.  For Frances has some major physical challenges that severely impair her movement, hearing, and ability to communicate–things most of us totally take for granted.  I honestly did not know what Frances’ abilities were when I sat down to help her with her four bingo cards, and I was nervous about doing too much or too little or talking too loud and not being able to understand what she was trying to say.

By the time the 90 minute tournament was over, I had a real sense of the woman next to me.  Her strength, her intelligence, her abilities that went well beyond what you could see from the outside.  We were in sync.  Mostly without words.

The words came later.

Later, in the dining room, I was talking to Crystal, officially the CARE Volunteer Coordinator but in reality the beating heart of the place.  Crystal saw Frances looking at us, trying to get our attention.  She went over to her and I followed.  When I bent down, for the first time I could understand everything Frances said.  “Thank you for helping me.  I want to give you something.”

She struggled to stand.  Dawn, a beautiful caregiver, helped her with her walker.  Frances went over to a table with crafts material on it.  She picked up this delicate, lace angel.  She gave it to me.

A village.

Of angels.

Of love.

Of generosity.

And incredible strength.

I only hope and pray that I can return in some measure the priceless gifts I receive during my time in this very special place.

Home with a Heart

Six months ago, when I started researching how to pull off this full-time RV dream, one of the (many) important steps was to decide which state was best for establishing residency.  You can travel around all you want, but you have to have an address somewhere for official purposes (IRS dealings, for example) and a place to handle your mail if you do not have other arrangements.

There are so many factors that go into this decision that there is no one right answer.  For me, the thing that convinced me to go with Texas and The Escapees RV Club/Mail Service was one very special and unique feature that showed this group of people has tremendous heart.

This feature is the Escapees CARE program (website:  www.escapeescare.org) that they have established adjacent to their campground property at Rainbow’s End near Livingston, Texas.  CARE stands for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.  This is the first (and apparently only) center designed by and for RV’ers to assist members who need that extra level of care.  In addition to a wonderful staff, the program is served by a multitude of member volunteers and funded by donations.  I was extraordinarily touched by this community who has devoted such time, energy, and resources to help their fellow travelers when the road becomes too rough to continue and respite and assistance are needed.

Anyone who has worked in a field related to senior services or who has walked the path of declining health with a loved one is likely familiar with the types of care available as people age, including facilities that range from independent living, assisted living, and nursing home.  A CCRC (continuing care retirement community) has all of these levels within one large campus.  In my work with seniors, I often found tremendous resistance to moving into any of these situations, and a deep desire to stay in one’s own home as long as possible.  Indeed, the Aging in Place movement that is spreading throughout our country helps people to achieve this goal.

The beauty of the Escapees CARE program is that it is like a melding of Aging in Place with Assisted Living.  The member’s home (their RV) gets a site near the CARE building.  A wheelchair ramp and a small storage shed is on their site pad.  Staff is available to help them in their home with things like housekeeping, laundry, and waste-tank management.  The large CARE building (shown in the photo above) houses the dining room (supplying three meals a day, seven days a week), activity center, library, nurse’s station, and other rooms.  Several vans are available to drive people to doctor appointments, shopping trips, and other outings.

In addition to serving the residents, CARE also has an adult care program (ADC).  Participants can come to the main building Monday through Friday for just the day.  CNA’s (certified nurse assistants) are on staff to help them with activities of daily living, including hygiene, eating, exercise, and entertainment.  Some of the people who benefit from the ADC program are the spouses of those who participate.  By having a safe place for their loved one to spend the day, they are given respite from caregiving responsibilities and can regenerate their own energy.  Their loved one comes home at the end of the day.  Caregiver support groups exist so that experiences can be shared and burdens eased.

Home, with a heart.  The Escapees who built CARE are a loose assortment of people from all walks of life who have delighted in years, sometimes decades of independence and widespread travel.  Many were full-time RV’ers, and their homes were wherever they happened to be parked that night.  Their network of friendships were woven from chance encounters and often maintained over great distances, with perhaps only occasional face-to-face meetings.  But their bonds, their hearts, and their love was and continues to be strong, strong enough to have built something like CARE.

I feel honored and blessed to be able to be a part of such a community.

(This post was edited on 6/27/15 after my first week of volunteering at CARE.  After learning about it in more depth, I felt it was important to correct some of the previous details.)