New coordinator brings enthusiasm to new programs

Photo by Robert Williams
Julie Howard is leading Neighbor to Neighbor’s new Caregiver Respite program, an activity program for loved ones impacted with health challenges and an opportunity for caregivers of all kinds to have a couple hours of respite.

By Robert Williams


Social Programs Coordinator Julie Howard is a new face at Neighbor to Neighbor and is introducing a new program, Caregiver Respite, an activity program for loved ones impacted with cognitive challenges and an opportunity for caregivers of all kinds to have a couple hours of respite.

Howard began working at Neighbor to Neighbor in May after relocating to Minnesota with her husband Russ from California.

“We were talking amongst the staff about what we needed and we had a volunteer come in, Jane Ofstedal from Vergas, and she ran a program similar to this in Alexandria,” said Howard.

Howard earned a Master of Science degree in Gerontology from the University of Southern California and is a licensed nursing home administrator. 

Ofstedal and Howard’s shared backgrounds led them to create the program.

“Between the two of us, we said, ‘this is what we need!” Howard said. “To have a program where people can bring their loved one here, totally free, for two hours they can do whatever they need to do. We’re going to provide snacks, activities, and a safe, secure environment.”

The program is scheduled for the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month from 1:30-3:30 p.m., at the Neighbor to Neighbor office located at 405 West Maple Avenue in Frazee.

The program was originally designed for caregivers of patients with cognitive challenges, but after some discussion, the program is now designed to be more inclusive for all caregivers.

“We’re going to open it up to everybody who is taking care of a loved one at home,” she said. “We can specialize if we see the need for cognitive impairment. That’s where some of the challenges of caregiving 24/7 lie—just never having a break, even when you’re sleeping, because they’re not sure if someone is going to get up or walk out.”

Since the program is so new, organizers wanted to assess what the community needs and meet that demand head-on.

“It’s just to give support to the caregivers,” said Howard. “What might morph from this is we might be able to start a caregivers support group and then if we see there are certain cognitively-impaired people, we can do education on that, so we have lots of resources.”

Completion of an assessment form is required before joining the program, where basic health information is provided that allows both Howard and Ofstedal a chance to get to know the people they are serving.

“We want to learn about the person,” said Howard. “The program will be person-centered, so we want to know are there any trigger points that upset someone or do they have any health issues that we should be aware of, allergies, what do they enjoy, so we can gear activities on what we know about people.”

Howard has spent much of the two years since moving from Paso Robles, Calif., to Detroit Lakes getting to know people. Julie lived all but five years of her life on the west coast, but her roots lie in Osakis, where her father was raised and her mother came from a large family that was raised in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Her career spans most of her life, as well, having worked in long-term care since she was 16.

A little networking led her to Neighbor to Neighbor and she is going to get the Caregiver Respite program off to an enthusiastic start.

“I’m super excited about it; it’s in my DNA to love being with seniors and we’re just going to have some fun,” she said. 

The goal of Neighbor to Neighbor is to keep people out of nursing homes, living independently as long as they can and this is the same.

“I know there are rural pockets out there that we’re not touching,” said Howard. “Coming from Midwestern roots, I understand the Norwegian, German, ‘we don’t ask for help.’ I get that, but I still know people are out there and probably feel alone and don’t need to.”

There is another new program, the Men’s Club, which held its first meeting recently. The meeting features a guest speaker and lunch. The next Men’s Club is scheduled for Monday, July 17, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The next Caregiver Respite program date is Tuesday, July 11. For more information or to get involved contact Julie at (218) 334-3559.

Another July activity date is Wednesday, July 12, when Becker County Master Gardener Catharine Weisenburger will conduct an education presentation from 1:30-2:30 p.m.