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 Konvolinka – attended a seminar in late 1984 at which a Shepherd’s Centers of America representative 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 telephone, 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. Whitaker, and Sonny Simpson, served on the 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 thirty years ago.
In April 1990, the Caregivers’ Support Group began. The idea of this group came from a conversation that 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 mother, Phyllis Lennon became the coordinator of this special ministry. She commuted from Cary to attend and facilitate the meetings.
The Handyperson Ministry was another service that 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 stop by the office daily to see whether anyone had called. He recruited all 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 full-time, and a part-time assistant was hired. In 1990, The Shepherd’s Center of Kernersville moved to Bodenhamer Street where it shared a building with Crisis Control Ministry. East Forsyth Citizens for Human Services conducted the capital campaign for the building, and it was amazing to watch the community’s 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. This ministry continues today with two primary functions: 1) making sure a service recipient is alright every morning and if not, implementing emergency procedures, 2) a period of socialization each day with individuals who are often homebound, and 3) preventing the feeling of isolation by providing friendship.
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 as needed from Lewisville.
The Kernersville Recreation Department and The Shepherd’s Center began a Senior Activities program once a month. They met at the Women’s Club and the group had become 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 the Senior Enrichment Center grew, the Kernersville Board of Alderman generously voted to lease the basement of the library to allow the Senior Center to have full-time contiguous programming. Today under the leadership of Lisa Miller, the Senior Enrichment 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.
Sandy Best was 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. This program is now named the Bill Radisch Center for Seniors, and is available twice a week to provide instruction and technical support for anyone needing help with electronic devices including computers, smartphones, and tablets. One-on-one learning is also offered on how to use these devices.
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 elderly population is at a higher risk of abuse than any other demographic in our population. The American Council on Aging stated that 1 in 10 adults over age 60 has experienced some form of elder abuse. In NC this usually takes the form of neglect.
Project Joy began as a program suggested by Anna Marie Price in 2004. She had a connection with a wholesale florist and on Thursdays or Fridays, we deliver flowers to 6-12 individuals for a recent illness, death, special anniversary, or birthday, or for a “lift” for someone in need of cheering. This program now also includes “Thinking of You” cards that are delivered or mailed.
In November 2021, The Shepherd’s Center of Kernersville moved into a building of its own, located at 636 Gralin Street, Kernersville. We opened our doors on November 1st. This move brought the Senior Enrichment Center and the Shepherd’s Center services under one roof. We are very thankful for the support we have and have received from our community, allowing us to finally unite all services and programs in one location.