Debbie Burns keeps busy with ICAN helping with office work and training new volunteers, as well as doing such short term tasks as grocery shopping and providing transportation for the elderly.
Debbie Burns celebrates the beauty and wonder in life with the simplest of things, whether it be grocery shopping, changing a light bulb, or giving an elderly person a ride to the doctor.
These are just some of the many contributions that Burns has made as a volunteer with Interfaith Caring Neighbors (ICAN) for the past year and a half. ICAN is an interfaith cooperative effort of 14 Lawrence congregations that provides informal support services to the frail elderly and their caregivers. The agency's main goal is to enable clients to stay in their own homes and enhance their quality of life.
Burns keeps busy with ICAN helping with office work and training new volunteers, as well as doing such short term tasks as grocery shopping and providing transportation for the elderly. It's a labor of love for Burns, who has had a lifelong affinity for older people.
She first got involved with ICAN while fulfilling a sociology course requirement at Kansas University. Burns, who received her bachelor's degree in history from KU last fall, is a big fan and supporter of the agency.
``I've stayed with ICAN because it really meets what I see is the most crucial need in this community,'' Burns said, ``and that is the assistance support for the frail elderly who want to stay at home. Most people want to stay at home. They do not want to go to a nursing home or go live with a relative.''
While the clients enjoy staying at home, they often are isolated and alone. Burns loves boosting their spirits. She talks about a visit she had with one senior citizen. Burns had just come by the woman's house to drop off some bananas.
``She was very lonely,'' Burns said. ``She had some infirmities, but she wanted to stay in her home. I must have stayed there an hour because she was fascinating. We had a nice conversation. I was able to listen and talk to her, and help relieve some of the isolation in her life.
``She was a lot happier when I left than when I got there. She wasn't a bitter person. It was just her mood had been lifted. I liked that.''
In addition to visiting with homebound clients, Burns feels much satisfaction in training new volunteers. She is currently looking forward to training a group in one week. Burns, 46, said that training was extremely important in showing the volunteers what to expect from their interactions with the elderly.
``I've found that it's not hard to deal with older people who have some sort of problems and limitations, as long as you're prepared for it,'' Burns said. ``We have information sheets that have tips on how to deal with people in wheelchairs or someone who is hard of hearing, so that they feel like they've been prepared. They're not just shoved out the door and expected to know what to do.''
Burns feels that the volunteers, as well as society, have much to learn from the elderly regarding their great inner strength and human spirit. She talks about one resilient woman she took to the doctor a month ago.
``I find that each person is special in their own way,'' Burns said. ``Considering some of the problems she's had, she just had a very positive outlook on life. It was very inspiring. Probably the most important thing I've learned working with older people is that you can experience a lot of difficulties but keep a positive attitude. Some of these people that are 80-, 90-plus-years-old have been through more than I could ever imagine at my age, but they're still bright, happy, and cheerful people.''
Glenna Herd, ICAN director, is very happy to have Burns volunteering with the agency.
``She's a very caring person, and she puts her caring into action,'' Herd said. ``She's totally reliable, and really helpful for me.''
Burns has been helping people for many years. Trained as a nurse's aide in 1986, Burns worked with the Visiting Nurses Assn. and Presbyterian Manor.
She currently has a busy schedule away from ICAN. Burns is a committed volunteer with Hospice, Brandon Woods Retirement Community, Kaw Valley Girl Scouts and Trinity Episcopal Church. She serves as a lay Eucharist minister for Trinity and is training to become a deacon.
Burns has been helping with bingo at Brandon Woods for the past two years. She loves to see the smiles on the residents' faces.
``That really has been a very rewarding experience,'' Burns said. ``I've made a lot of friends out there. Bingo is a social activity.''
As for her future, Burns plans on soon attending graduate school and studying either social welfare or gerontology. She would love to work with an agency similar to ICAN, where she can make a true impact on older people's lives.
``I feel very committed to the idea that we can do better as far as our senior citizens,'' Burns said. ``There's got to be a better way to deal with aging. As a society, we tend to shut them off in nursing homes or retirement communities. I think we can do better than that, and I'm hoping that by pursuing more education, I can contribute to the improvement of care for older people.''