Unique day camp for adults with dementia reopens
by Rick Mauch
Connecting in life is hard enough. For those with dementia and their caregivers, it’s even more challenging, which is why Carol Holmes created Connect Camp for Adults with Dementia. She appears to be drawn to help others as a health coach and yoga teacher from her studio, Circle Y Yoga Ranch.
“I instruct yoga and CPR classes to businesses, at veteran retreats, outdoor parks, on paddle boards and other locations to make it convenient for people to practice anywhere, anytime and engage them in their journey toward better health.”
Connect Camp was born through a need she saw during one of her classes held at St. Stephen Catholic Church. One of her students was a caregiver for her mom, who had dementia, and would bring her to class.
“Her mom was in a chatter phase of the disease, which made her daughter feel uncomfortable as she did not want to bother the others and was not able to release the stress she had hoped to with yoga,” Holmes recalled. “The whole class was sympathetic and it really was no bother, but it provided insight for a need I saw in the community.”
It gave Holmes the idea to not only offer yoga, but to have a safe, social, helpful program for people with dementia so caregivers can have some time for themselves.
“I loved her mom and really wanted to connect more with who she was evolving into being with the disease. There is still so much life in their hearts and behind their eyes. I wanted to give people like her another chance to be on their own with others in a community where they would feel confident, adventurous and liberated from the disease for some joy-filled moments, and maybe take some of that sense home with them to their families,” Holmes said.
Holmes started the program in November of 2016. It was put on hold in March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while in-person indoor gatherings were on hold, the group was still active. Families were ecstatic to continue the program.
They held four virtual camp days, which included musical guests, a digital art activity, singing, offerings of blessings to whomever needed them, and engaged camp members “in just plain conversations, like people have sitting around a table.”
Also during the pandemic, they took a few field trips, visiting places such as Holland Lake Park in Weatherford, Karen Walkup Art Studio, and even the Fort Worth Zoo. Families were eager to restart Connect Camp, revealing the value of it.
Now, it is returning to St. Stephen Catholic Church on Feb. 17. Connect Camp, a nonprofit organization in conjunction with Holmes’ Circle Y Yoga Ranch, meets on the first and third Thursday of each month for three hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Camp volunteer “buddies” donate their time to be a friend, a smiling face and connect with camp members. Trusting relationships are forged while members take part in exercises that focus on: motor skills (balance, coordination, strength and dexterity); sensory perception (responding to the five senses of the body); cognitive ability (memory exercises, concentration, learning new things); and, interpersonal skills (listening, questioning, conversing, self-awareness).
“Our focus is to find what works for each camp member at that time and on that day,” said Holmes.
The mission of the organization is two-fold: to provide a safe, uplifting environment for those with a failing sense of themselves and their surroundings, but also to give respite for caregivers.
During camp days, caregivers can shop, rest, have lunch with friends, exercise, go to their doctor appointments, get a haircut – whatever they would like to do.
“Connect Camp would never be available, much less possible, if it were not for the very many ‘buddies’ who assist each camp member during every phase of the program,” Holmes praised. “That is truly a Godsend because I never expected to have that much of an outpouring of people devoted to this community. The personal rewards are incredible, and we have so much fun! Laughing is a huge part of the program and is good medicine.”
“If I could, I would love to name our buddies that have helped over the years: Cecelia DeLozier, Christy McCarty, Diane Grant, Evelyn Mann, Gus, Cecilia & Alex Villaneuva, Janet Standifer, JoAnn Tarbay, Josie Thurmon, Kim Horwedel, Lori Rice, Lorrie Shannon, Maria Ruiz, Martha Drillette, Mary Koenen, Milferd De Fosse, Pat Champang, Paul Monk, Sarah Collier, Susan Ourada and Terri Smith have all given of their time to help. We have become a family!”
One caregiver who took part in the program was Cathy Honzell, who brought her mother, Mary Ellen.
“My mother was a people person. So even when she couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast, she did know she liked to be around people,” Honzell said. “Connect Camp gave her the opportunity to be around people and have some activities she enjoyed. Sometimes she couldn’t remember what she did there, but it gave her a good feeling afterwards.”
Likewise for Tom White and his wife, Patricia, who is now in a memory care center after he cared for her at home for six years.
“It was stressful,” said White, “So when I learned about CC providing care for my wife and respite for me twice a month, I was all for it. My wife loved it, and she was always excited when I told her where she was going,” he said. “Plus, she did better than she would do at home.”
Holmes said that while there is a greater understanding of dementia, more outlets are needed to support caregivers and the dementia community that contributed so much during their lifetime.
“These camp members were doctors, veterans, ranchers, postal workers, teachers, coaches, engineers, mothers, fathers, and so much more,” said Holmes.
That is why she is hoping to expand the Connect Camp for Adults with Dementia program to more places.
“Every community should have this program to welcome these people and give respite to caregivers so they can stay together as long as possible,” she said. “There is a time when it becomes much too difficult and help is needed. My hope is that Connect Camp will be able to expand and fill that need with more camp days and community assistance.”
The program is open to anyone who wants to participate. Call Holmes if you would like to:
...be a buddy.
...know a person that would like to be a camp member.
...sponsor a lunch.
...be a special guest (with a talent or hobby to share).
...invest in the program.
“We are grateful for the Venture Capital Grant that we received from United Way of Parker County and do rely on donations to operate,” Holmes added.
The families are thankful, too.
“Carol had amazing patience, along with excitement and joy, and I know the folks were drawn to her,” said caregiver Ceri Artzer. “From the moment we pulled up in front of the building and the volunteers came out to assist with walking my mother in, we knew that good fun was going to be in store.”
For further information on Connect Camp and American Heart Association courses, contact Holmes at 817-609-6454 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.CircleYyoga.com for more details.