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Minding Body & Soul

Minding Body & Soul
January 2016
Through art, yoga, music, and more, Respite Care Charleston cultivates feelings of pride and productivity in locals with dementia

When it comes to dealing with matters of the head, Laura Stefanelli understands that it’s all about heart. As the director of Respite Care Charleston (RCC), she’s seen families selflessly put their lives on hold to care for loved ones diagnosed with dementia. And she’s ever mindful that as a person’s mental state diminishes, their preference for home becomes even greater.

“For most people, home is comfortable, the place of their memories, and more affordable than an assisted-living facility. Our goal is to offer support that helps people with dementia stay in their homes as long as possible,” says Stefanelli, who came to know RCC in 1998 while tending her grandmother, who was battling Alzheimer’s. “Caring for someone with dementia is a 24-seven job, and a small break allows guardians to recharge.” By gathering participants for meaningful companionship, RCC’s social day program keeps everyone’s spirits high at a low cost.

In churches in Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, West Ashley, and John’s Island, RCC provides four-hour sessions during which participants take part in activities including chair yoga, music, crafts, and outreach projects such as creating cards for first responders. The weekday schedule remains packed thanks to program coordinators Jennifer Hartig and Pam Gilligan, plus some 200 trained volunteers who deliver meals, lead classes, and give participants one-on-one companionship. “Many facing this form of mental decline slowly lose their group of friends,” explains Stefanelli. “Our program offers a social piece to their days, and much pride comes from those relationships.”

Family members also find relief through monthly caregiver support groups, where they share resources, laughter, tears, and ideas with others on the same journey. One group is even dedicated to participants who have been newly diagnosed or are in the early stages of the disorder. And these caregivers gain a tender spot in their hearts for this organization, often returning to volunteer after their loved ones succumb to the terminal condition.

Save the date: A fundraiser for Respite Care Charleston, the Betty Cannon Golf Tournament on Seabrook Island, is Monday, March 14. Find info at