Fires, Floods… and the Friendship Center

Friendship Center is not just a day program for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  We are not just a social center where members are welcomed with a light breakfast, a hot lunch, and an afternoon snack along with a day full of engaging activities and the care and attention you’d want for your own loved ones. We are a lifeline for family caregivers, our services often providing the only way of keeping their loved ones with dementia in their own homes. For some of our elderly members, meals provided at our centers are the best and most dependable nutrition they receive.

In the aftermath of recent disasters in our community, the tremendous stress family caregivers and care-receivers are experiencing cannot be underestimated. The confusion those with dementia feel is exacerbated by change to daily routine, and the changes they are dealing with are now extreme—different daily schedule, perhaps temporary change to living situations, and of course the uncertainty about what is happening and why.

One of our caregivers had to be hospitalized during the fires. Many of our families have been displaced, some leaving the area and others residing in local hotels until they can return home. Though we welcome all members who normally attend in Montecito to attend our Goleta Center, those living “on the Carpinteria side” are unable to access the support and services Friendship Center provides.

One very ashy morning in early December, our Administrator drove into Montecito with N-95 mask firmly in place, working quickly to gather everything needed to keep our site in Goleta up and running while our Montecito site was closed due to air quality and ash residue. This turned out to stretch on over three weeks. Only a week after reopening our Montecito Center to much relief, this scenario was to play out again, this time with devastating and deadly flooding and mudslides.

With the freeway closed and most of Montecito, including our center, in the safety exclusion zone, our Executive Director and Administrative Assistant were escorted by police to our Center and again had to assemble necessary items Though we didn’t know how long this time either, it seemed safe to assume it could be a while. Since that time our staff has pulled together to attend to the needs of our participants in Goleta and to continue with the planning of our annual Festival of Hearts event, often doing jobs we are not used to doing in places we are not used to doing them.

Said Executive Director Heidi Holly, “We believe our best response is to continue without interruption doing what we do best, which is to continue providing stellar day services and trusted, reliable respite for families and caregivers.”

We are fortunate that our Montecito site is unharmed and will reopen as soon as we are able. We are grateful to our partners, including Community Action Commission (CAC), who has made sure we have hot, nourishing lunches for the many people we serve each day in Goleta, Easy Lift, who has accommodated the changes to where our participants are living and where we are providing services on next to no notice, All Saints-By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, who ensured our site was cleaned and safe for our participants to return after the fires, and the continuing support of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the site of our Goleta Center.

We need to extend a big and hearty thank you to First American Title, where we have been provided temporary workspace for our administrative team in their offices on upper State Street. We are also so thankful to our volunteers, entertainers, and SBCC Vitality Program instructors, whom, though affected as we all are, continue to work for the benefit of our Friendship Center participants.  We are also fortunate to be served by a wonderful group of volunteers, supporters, and Board of Directors who are committed to Friendship Center’s mission.

At this time, Board members, staff, and volunteers are working hard to make sure that our 19th Annual Festival of Hearts goes forward as planned, February 10 at The Fess Parker. Titled “The Queen of Hearts’ Tea Party,” it will be a chance to let some of the cares of the world fall away and enjoy good food, wine, and company for a good cause, with a Wonderland twist–we hope to see you all there!

Please call the Goleta Center at 805-845-7442 for further information or questions.

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