A Lori’s Hands student intern poses with her client (Courtesy photo)

By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO

The nonprofit Lori’s Hands came about as a tribute to a mother. The organization that began in Delaware, and expanded to Baltimore two years ago, aims to create synergistic relationships wIth its clients, particularly the underserved low-income older adults with age-related health issues. 

“Our Founder and current President of Board of Directors Sarah LaFave had the personal experience of her mother living with breast cancer for much of her childhood” the program’s Interim Executive Director Maggie Ratnayake explained to the AFRO.

LeFave saw first-hand what it was like for an individual and a family to  navigate chronic illness, because of all the support they needed while her mother was in and out of treatment. “She saw that her mother’s health wasn’t just about medicine, it was also about her independence and her connection to community,” stated Ratnayake.

Lori’s Hands pairs college students, majoring mostly in the health care professions, with older adults with illnesses or other health issues that preclude them from being as active as they would like. The students (who go in pairs), visit the clients once per week for a semester and help with whatever is needed whether it be assistance with baths, meal preparation, grocery shopping, light housekeeping, etc. 

Unfortunately, LeFave’s mother Lori, passed away before LeFave went  to study Nursing at the University of Delaware. While in school, LeFave noticed that many of her peers had no concrete familiarity with a large cohort of patients, mainly people living with chronic illnesses, they would be serving once they graduated. The two things inspired her to found Lori’s Hands. “She felt  that when you live it and see it in person,” explained Ratnayake, “you have a much deeper understanding of the human experience than just reading a textbook.”

Since then, the program has expanded to Detroit and Baltimore, where they received the needed funding via a grant from Community Care Corps.

Because the program stresses the mutual benefit of intergenerational exchange, only college students are admitted as participants, but others are invited to volunteer for special events such as block cleanups.

The program was able to nimbly pivot at the onset of the COVID shutdown. “During the pandemic, we have continuously adapted our services to be as impactful as possible while prioritizing clients’ and students’ safety. We continue to offer in person assistance with household tasks with some modified safety protocol. We also offer contactless services like grocery and prescription drop offs, as well as virtual support, like phone and video calls,” stated Ratnayake.

Sixty-six year-old Baltimore resident Joni Karr, came to Lori’s Hands after experiencing what she described was, “a serious lung infection in 2020.” Ultimately Karr ended up needing help walking her dogs after coming out of the hospital. “Lori’s Hands found me someone to walk my dogs each Saturday, and Mindy and Zoe to help with other things.”

In addition to help with having her groceries delivered and tidying her apartment, there was also companionship. “We had time to chat and I told them about being an older person as well as giving advice on things like caring for an elder person properly.”

One of Ms. Karr’s interns this past year was Zoe Green, who is finishing up her Masters Degree in Nursing at Johns Hopkins. She came to Lori’s hands because of a class requirement that students, “Work with some entity within the community.”

One of the most significant lessons Green learned was, “Coming into someone’s space, it’s really important to listen instead of coming in with my own expectations of what to do. We have certain goals with the visits, but maybe the client wants it done in a different time frame or at a different speed, for example.”

Apart from that, what stands out about her “amazing experience” was  “just being able to provide companionship, it’s pretty crazy because we would do things that seemed like small things, but they would mean the world to Ms. Carr. I don’t think I will ever be able to stop being in communication with her.”

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