With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling its in-person activities since mid-March, Respite Care Atlanta decided to celebrate July 4 two days early to show its members face-to-face some love.
The organization for adults with cognitive difficulties hosted an Independence Day-themed drive-through parade July 2 at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead, where it normally hosts its programs three days a week.
“This is something that our sister respites, who are largely concentrated in Alabama, do at the turn of a hat,” Wendy Liverant, Respite Care Atlanta’s director, said of the parade. “It’s been very successful there. We’re all about sharing ideas. It’s really hard during COVID-19. Each respite program has a personality of its own. So, ours morphed into something that took a lot of preparation.”
During the parade, volunteers and supporters dressed in patriotic clothes and held signs expressing their love and support for the members and caregivers.
Respite Care Atlanta was founded in September 2018. It hosts programs three days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Second-Ponce, one of eight local houses of worship that support the organization.
Respite Care Atlanta provides social interaction with activities such as music, arts and crafts, games and exercise for individuals with cognitive difficulties. It also allows caregivers a break from helping their loved ones so they can do things like rest, run errands, pay bills or catch up on emails.
Once the coronavirus outbreak hit Atlanta and the organization stopped its in-person activities, it started by sending activity packs to the members and their caregivers and began conducting Zoom sessions in late May or early June, Liverant said.
She added Respite Care Atlanta continues to use technology to engage with its members, including using Zoom for regular and themed Bingo sessions and a historical trivia event July 3.
“I am sending out (an email with) what will more likely to be a staple. Volunteers of ours have cut Fourth of July music videos with piano and vocals,” Liverant said. “We are working on more of that since music is the common denominator and common communicator for all of us.”
She said Respite Care Atlanta, which serves 20 families with its members, will return to in-person activities once it’s safe enough to do so.
“Eleven are supposed to be here in this parade today,” Liverant said. “Some are out of town. There’s a lot of love between us, so I don’t even have to think about (it). Whatever we do is going to be well received. They’re highly appreciative.”
Linda Gruskin is one of those thankful members. She has mild cognitive impairment, which is defined by medical professionals as the state between the normal type of cognitive decline, which happens to everyone with old age, and very early dementia.
Sandy, her husband and caregiver, said they’ve been involved with the organization for just over a year.
“She loves the camaraderie of the program,” he said.
Linda Gruskin is a former costume designer who worked in the TV/film industry, including the movies “Eight Men Out” and “Flight.” Respite Care Atlanta gives her a chance to visit with others in a large setting.
“She loves the group interactions, and every time she comes, she’s sort of known for coming (wearing) different hats,” Sandy Gruskin said. “… She has different hats for each time she comes, and (the members) all make a fuss about her hats. She explains to them (their origins). She’s been doing it for many years.”
The activities help both her and him, he said.
“She’s the most important thing in my life,” Sandy Gruskin said. “It gives her a break from me because we’re (together) 24/7, and I think that’s great for her. Plus, it gives me a chance to get some work and stuff done. But she needs the break more than I do.
“I love this organization. I think it’s absolutely super what they do and it’s tremendous. They have the right mix of everything.”
For more information, visit www.respitecareatlanta.org.