Published October 08. 2012 4:00AM Updated October 10. 2012 1:18PM
As Orchard House Adult Medical Day Center celebrates its 30th anniversary, Stephanie Evans-Ariker sees another opportunity to communicate why this unique place deserves the attention of professionals and families seeking support options for loved ones.
Stephanie joined Orchard House as executive director in February. In her experience, (including a nursing background and 14 years in the senior care industry), there's nothing quite like it.
"When Orchard House was founded, it was the first of its kind. For a very long time, it was the only adult day center from New Haven to New London. Not only are we non-profit, but we are a private, free-standing adult day center," says Stephanie.
Stephanie hails from Atlanta, Georgia. Through Orchard House, she's found "Southern hospitality" here in Branford, she says. Stephanie and husband, Jeremy, son Levi, and their three dogs are New Haven residents. An active volunteer with several local non-profits, she also serves on the board for Junior League of Greater New Haven.
Clients from New Haven to Guilford and all points in-between enjoy Orchard House. Founded in space offered by First Baptist Church of Branford, within two years it had moved to the former Short Beach School, helped by the Town of Branford. Today, its beautifully renovated spaces are surrounded by gardens. Programming blends an adult day center concept with an inspired medical model, creating an amazing option for caregivers seeking an enriching atmosphere, with medical oversight, for adult loved ones.
Client fees are supplemented by federal and state funding. Orchard House also relies on grants and generous donations from supporters, several of whom will be honored Sunday, Oct. 14 at Orchard House's 30th anniversary celebration. Stephanie also credits Orchard House's remarkable board members through the years.
"They are people who are passionate about a cause and driven to make it successful, at any cost. I think that's what made Orchard House successful for 30 years. It's also the people like those we'll be honoring. And it's our families and volunteers."
Volunteers provide companionship, organize games, and lead enrichment activities, from gardening to painting, Tai Chi to yoga. In addition, Orchard House offers exemplary administrative support and professional nursing, with four committed RNs (one on duty daily).
"They are our first responders and, because they're here with our clients, they get to know them. They're able to notice even the slightest change," says Stephanie.
In addition, caregiver support is embraced. Stephanie says caregiver-role strain is a very common experience.
"We spend hours, every day, listening to family members regarding keeping all the balls in the air. They are very appreciative of the respite this service offers."
As a result, "We have families calling all the time to volunteer and to offer to donate supplies. We seem to be at the top of the list when it comes to donating time and any resources they have."
Of 70 current clients, about 32 visit Orchard House daily, although there's room for up to 55. In addition to making more referral professionals aware of this option, finding funding is another hurdle. Client fees are subsidized so, "it's a matter of what the state will pay for," Stephanie says.
"The Connecticut Respite Program pays for one day a week. Sometimes, that's all a family can afford."
Additional per-client state funding's increased a tiny bit recently, but the processing time to receive subsidies has also increased.
"It used to take three or four months. Now, it's up to eight or nine months," says Stephanie. "So we take them in, and do a patchwork of assistance, until the process is complete."
An experienced grant writer, Stephanie's working to position Orchard House's services as a basic need.
"From my point of view, this is a basic need, because a family situation can change for the worse if they can't get help. It's also meeting the medical needs of the clients that are here."
Orchard House Adult Medical Day Center celebrates its 30th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at 421 Shore Drive, Branford. The celebration is free and open to the public; all residents of shoreline towns from New Haven to Guilford, including North Branford and North Haven, are invited to attend and enjoy refreshments, entertainment, and an exciting silent auction. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.