Caregivers get new leader, change procedures due to COVID

Caregivers get new leader, change procedures due to COVID
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Island Volunteer Caregivers has had to make a number of changes due to COVID-19.

With the onset of COVID-19 in March, many of IVC’s services had to adapt. Volunteers stepped up to grocery shop for care receivers and deliver medications.

New partnerships with Helpline and BARN were established, and for six months volunteers have been delivering Helpline boxes, BARN Bites meals and Super Suppers to care receivers who need to shelter in place.

IVC also started a Phone Buddy program connecting care receivers to our volunteers. And, IVC volunteers still take people to non-COVID-19, medically necessary appointments.

And now, volunteer Laura Van Dyke is taking over as the new executive director of IVC, replacing the retiring Rita Elsberry, the organization announced Tuesday.

Susan Lusk, president of the IVC board of directors, said: “Laura’s blend of not-for-profit experience with an engineering solution-oriented mindset and engagement in the Bainbridge Island community for thirty-two years has prepared her well for this role.”

After a 25-year career, Van Dyke shifted from engineer to social justice advocate in 2013. That change was prompted by reading the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder, which tells the story of Partners In Health – a social justice healthcare nonprofit organization. She was moved by the story, the simple idea of “Tout moun se moun (All people are people in Haitian Kreyol),” and the efforts of a small group trying to right many wrongs in the world.

Van Dyke, who has lived on Bainbridge Island since 1988, then devoted her time to learning about social justice, equity and how to best honor the dignity and worth of every person. During this time, she learned about IVC and came to understand it as an organization on Bainbridge Island that reflects those same values.

IVC mission

IVC recruits volunteers and connects them with community residents who are elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable and need help to maintain their dignity, independence and quality of life. All of IVC’s services are offered free.

Pre-COVID-19, IVC provided transportation for health-care appointments, shopping and errands, light household chores, gardening and pet care, reading to visually impaired people, companionship visits, and respite care to relieve family caregivers. IVC also put into place a medical notetaking program, whereby volunteers act as scribes for medical appointments.

And for many years, IVC has been delivering island-grown flowers through its Flowers from the Heart program, as well as a Life Enrichment program that has, among other things, been taking people to the movies, and field trips to different locations through its Kreaky Knees groups.

For over 15 years, IVC has also been offering Grief Support via two programs, as well as a weekly Caregiver Support program.

Despite the coronavirus, the organization remains effective.

Last year, IVC volunteers gave more than 12,000 hours of help – a substantial increase over prior years – to almost 400 care receivers.

We were even able to deliver over 400 bouquets of flowers this summer to our care receivers and other folks in the community, Lusk said.

To be safe, COVID-19 protocols are in place whether volunteers are shopping for someone, or taking a care receiver to an appointment.

“COVID-19 has created many challenges for IVC, but I am amazed at how well Rita, the staff and the board have pivoted to continue to provide its essential services,” Van Dyke said.

“We are so grateful for Rita Elsberry and the time, talents and deep caring that she provided to the organization and the community over the past eight years,” Lusk said, adding she will be missed but will still volunteer for IVC.

Giving and receiving

IVC connects people wanting to serve their neighbors with seniors, people with disabilities or those needing assistance to maintain their quality of life.

Sheila Curwen does both. She gives by helping with mailing, but also receives in a number of ways.

“That’s always been a part of my life’s journey. I may receive gifts, but I also give back as much as I can,” Curwen said.

This summer Curwen said she’s been provided some amazing meals cooked by different churches in the Super Supper program.

She said she misses getting together and eating with friends, but understands why she can’t because of the coronavirus.

She said BARN Bites is another great program where she gets “absolutely incredible” meals.

This summer Curwen has been going to waterfront park with a small group of friends to have lunch, also with the help of IVC.

Curwen said, “Even though I don’t have a need for it,” she knows volunteers will grocery shop for care recipients, or take them to doctors appointments.

She said IVC works a lot with the senior center.

“They work hand and gloves with a lot of different programs,” Curwen said. “We’d be in bad shape if we didn’t have either of them.”


Paula Sanchez has been volunteering since COVID-19 hit in March. She travels often as a stage manager for corporate events.

“It’s terribly interesting when you can do it,” she said, adding she’s been all over the world with events even for the king of Thailand and Nelson Mandela.

But she’s always wanted to volunteer and now she has the time. She has friends who are part of IVC and her mother-in-law was a care recipient, so, “I just wanted to pitch in. My friends inspired me to get involved.”

Sanchez said she shops for a man and for a woman once a week. She’s also delivered BARN Bites meals when those are available.

“It’s a lot of feel-good stuff,” she said.

She’s gotten back as much as she’s given. The wife of the man she shops for made her a Thai meal.

“I’ll drop off groceries, and she’ll hand me a meal,” she said.

The woman she shops for was an amazing dog trainer, said Sanchez, who has rescue dogs.

“She’s taught me a few things, and I’ve put them into play,” she said, adding with rescue dogs you’re always looking for ways to improve their behavior because “you never know what you’re getting.”

Sanchez said because of the continuity of the program she’s made friends with her care recipients.

“We just get to chatting, and in some ways that’s just as important as deliveries or driving them somewhere,” she said.

Sanchez said it’s a good match for her because when she was younger growing up in Chicago she always had older people around, and she liked listening to their stories.

“It’s nice to be involved,” she said of volunteering. “I feel better like I live here when before it was like I came and went.”

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