The national Shepherd’s Center movement began in Kansas City in 1972 to provide both enrichment and services for older adults.
Three local concerned individuals – Pat Henderson, Sandra Jennings, and Nancy Konvalinka – attended a seminar in late 1984 at which a Shepherd’s Centers of America spoke. They felt the older adults in the Kernersville community needed assistance.
Approximately 4 months later Pat Henderson arranged a community meeting at the Holy Cross Parish House. From this meeting a core group was formed including: the original three women, Diane Cook, Karen Knittel, Cindy Farris, and Diane Limbaugh. Within two months The Shepherd’s Center of Kernersville’s Articles of Incorporation had been filed and within the first year these individuals formed a Board of Directors and established structure for the organization.
The first part-time paid staff was Sally Reade, who was paid through the Title V of the Older Americans Act funding. In November 1986, Heather Camp was hired as the part-time Executive Director. There were no services or volunteers other than the volunteer founding Board. “I had an orange file cabinet, a red phone, a desk, and was open for business,” shared Heather. The first office was in the Fellowship Hall of Kernersville Moravian Church.
Shortly after Heather Camp came on board, she was introduced to Martha Casstevens. Martha became the first Shepherd’s Center service volunteer. Martha introduced Heather to many Kernersville residents; and some like Ted Kerner, Jack Pierce, Dr. Richard Whitaker, and Sonny Simpson, served on The Center Board of Directors.
At the November 1986 Board Meeting it was decided that the first Shepherd’s Center ministry would be Transportation. Martha Casstevens suggested about two dozen individuals who might volunteer to drive. Heather made calls throughout the weekend; and by Monday fourteen wonderful individuals had agreed to drive. Thus, the Transportation Ministry had begun.
An article ran in the Kernersville News the following Tuesday, and immediately the first service recipient contacted the office for service. The word continued to spread, and within the first year The Center was making about 30 trips per month.
The Board of Directors decided that the next ministry should be Companion Sitting/Respite Care. A Companion Sitting Planning Committee was formed and they diligently worked on establishing guidelines for this ministry. It took longer for Companion Sitting to take off. For a stranger to come into the home and stay with a loved one while the primary caregiver was away was almost unheard of over twenty years ago.
In April 1989, the Caregivers’ Support Group began. The idea of this group came from a conversation which Heather Camp had with Phyllis Lennon. Board Member, Cindy Farris, agreed to facilitate these meetings two evenings per month. Years later, after the death of her own mother, Phyllis Lennon became the coordinator of this special ministry. She commuted from Cary to attend and facilitate the meetings.
The Handyperson Ministry was a service which other Shepherd’s Centers offered. Several requests for assistance with minor home repairs had been received, and Sonny Simpson agreed to be the coordinator of this program. He remained the coordinator until his health required him to resign. He never needed to be called; he would come by the office every day to see whether anyone had called. He recruited all of the original Handyperson volunteers. Sonny served on The Center Board of Directors and was also one of the original drivers. Because of his generosity of time and talents, a memorial celebrating his life was erected in front of our offices where other Shepherd’s Center volunteers can be recognized for their tireless dedication.
Heather Camp had become fulltime, and a part-time assistant was hired. In 1990, the Shepherd’s Center of Kernersville moved to its current location on Bodenhamer Street. East Forsyth Citizens for Human Services conducted the capital campaign for this building, and it was amazing to watch the community response and support.
In 1991 Telephone Reassurance, in partnership with Contact of Winston-Salem, was the next ministry to be added. Volunteers were required to take a rigorous 50-hour training course. Many amazing situations have come from this program; including our finding one of the Telephone Reassurance recipients deceased from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This ministry is still meeting its two primary functions: 1) making sure a service recipient is alright every morning and, if not, implementation of emergency procedures; and 2) a period of socialization each day with individuals who are often homebound.
Through our partnership with Contact of Winston-Salem we added a counselor available one day per week. Reverend Tom Lee has been our counselor since approximately 1992. He currently travels to our office weekly from Lewisville.
The Kernersville Recreation Department and The Shepherd’s Center began a Senior Activities program once per month. They met at the Women’s Club and the group had between 12 – 14 attendees each month. In 1996, the Town of Kernersville downsized and the Senior Activities job was eliminated. Lori Anderson missed working with older adults and approached The Shepherd’s Center about expanding its program. Lori volunteered as Senior Center Director until a grant could be written to hire her on a part-time basis. As Senior Enrichment Center grew, the Kernersville Board of Aldermen generously voted to lease the basement of the library to allow the Senior Center to have fulltime contiguous programming. Today under the leadership of Lisa Miller, the Senior Center has been named a Center of Excellence by the State of NC. Our center was the first Center of Merit in a five county area.
Marilyn Shaffrath offered her expertise in working with the visually impaired in 1994. Marilyn was also visually impaired. She had office hours once a week and went to the homes of those with vision problems to assist with organization, check writing, money exchange, learning ways of cooking, and she offered a cooking class for sighted volunteers. They were required to wear blindfolds to help them understand the challenges of this segment of the population. Marilyn passed away in 1995; however, this ministry continues todaywith a monthly meeting at Robinwood Apartments with speakers and socialization.
Sandy Best is the coordinator and founder of “Person-to-Person” Visitation. She realized that many individuals do not have family nearby and would benefit from a volunteer visitor at least once per week. The individual is matched with the same volunteer and an extended family relationship develops.
Don Brigance was a paraplegic who moved to Kernersville. He wanted to stay connected with his friends and have something to occupy his time; therefore, his wife contacted The Shepherd’s Center to ask for help with installing a computer system suitable for his special needs. Bill Radisch was the computer “guru” we called. This project prompted Bill to begin an investigation into computer training for older or disabled adults. He learned of SeniorNet National – an organization offering software and manuals for organizations to train older adults on computer basics. In 1998 The Shepherd’s Center began classes for up to six students in each class. These classes are at a slower pace and the student ratio is usually two per instructor or assistant. This program is now named the Bill Radisch Computer Center for Seniors.
The Advocacy Ministry sprang from a situation we experienced in one of our ministries – a case of elder neglect. The individual died before Social Services could complete their investigation. In partnership with the Kernersville Police Department and the Department of Social Services we offered classes to volunteers and the community on elder abuse, exploitation, and neglect. The statistics are shocking – in 2011 every 2.7 minutes an elder is abused. In NC this usually takes the form of neglect.
Project Joy began as a program suggested by Anna Marie Price in 2004. She has a connection with a local wholesale florist and on Fridays most weeks we deliver flowers to approximately 6 -7 individuals for a recent illness, death, special anniversary or birthday, or for a “lift” for someone in need of cheering.
In May 2012 The Shepherd’s Center hosted its first Senior Adult Dental Clinic. This event was sponsored by the Rotary Club and the NC Baptist Men. We served approximately 24 individuals enabling them to receive free dental care. This will be a bi-annual event.