On the Leading Edge of Addressing a Major Social Need
Our story began in 2012, when Respite for All (RFA) co-founder, Daphne Johnston, launched a Respite Ministry at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, the senior minister, Dr. Lawson Bryan, and the congregation were praying for a way that the church could provide a response to a growing community issue, which was support needed for those living with dementia, their care partners, and their families. With Daphne’s background in gerontology and over 15 years of work as an executive director in senior living administration, she knew there were solutions other than medical and long-term care facilities.
Congregational dementia care has been around for years, and a few dementia ministries were operating in the Southeast. Daphne visited them all. She wanted to take in everything they were doing, and after her trip to each one, the vision for a different model became more apparent. The aim of Respite for All was to focus on building a no-label environment where everyone had a purpose, blurring the lines between trained volunteers and those we were serving – creating an atmosphere of service for everyone involved so those living with memory issues could still find meaning in their day-to-day lives. The first Respite Ministry began two days a week from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, where people living with dementia and trained volunteers could come together for games, art, music, exercise, shared meals, and service projects for the community. Additionally, meaningful worship services were offered multiple times a month for all participants, their care partners, and the volunteers.
The Respite Ministry was an immediate success and grew to 20 friends participating, along with 65 volunteers in the first year. But the growth didn’t stop there. The program began meeting three days a week, and then four, and the team expanded to include assistant director Laura Selby, who launched Side by Side Singers, one of the largest church-based dementia choirs in the country.
The program eventually grew to 75 friends served weekly, with 100 active volunteers. And during its first ten years, the local ministry logged over 100,000 hours of volunteer time with two paid staff and served over 800 participants and care partners.
Success came from the enthusiasm for a gathering where people could go and enjoy one another’s company just as they are, again with no labels. All the name tags are the same because everyone is living with life challenges, and none of us needs their differences highlighted.
Based on the rapid advancement of the Respite Ministry, the Respite for All Foundation was created to spread the volunteer model of care across the country. In 2016 and 2019, the RFA model was recognized by the U.S. Administration on Aging as an innovative initiative for dementia. In 2021, RFA won the coveted Anne and Irving Brodsky Innovation Grant from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The Respite for All Foundation was also recognized in the 2022 Innovations in Alzheimer’s Care handbook published by Maude’s Awards.