Isle of Hope UMC ministry offers hope, support to those with dementia


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Five years ago, Beth and Chuck Maner’s lives changed when Chuck was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. In the past two years, his health has declined to a point where he needs round-the-clock care and isn’t able to be alone.

It’s been a difficult few years, Beth says – isolating and lonely. Because of the disease, Chuck, an outgoing and friendly man, had little to look forward to and nowhere where he felt normal. And unless she hired a caregiver Beth didn’t have time to run errands and do the things she needed to do.

So it was a “miracle,” Beth said, when a friend’s daughter told her about Hope Arbor, a respite care ministry at Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah.

Launched in late January, the program serves those living with memory impairment, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers. Four hours a day, twice a week, Chuck and others go to sing, exercise, play games, pray, and talk.

They find community, compassion, fellowship, and fun with Hope Arbor’s trained volunteers.

“The Hope Arbor Respite Program is the highlight of my husband’s week,” Beth Maner said. “The volunteers meet him at the door with smiles and excitement that he is there. He is accepted and encouraged to be himself. They actually seem to appreciate him and make him feel special; he feels loved.”

Volunteers play games that help with flexibility and memory, a hot lunch is catered in each day, and a musician leads the “Joy in the Moment Choir” in oldies and show tunes. Singing hymns is one of Chuck’s favorite activities. He didn’t often sing before his diagnosis, but since attending Hope Arbor he remembers the words to long-ago-sung songs and sings at home, too.

“The singing has brought joy into his life,” Beth Maner said. “This spirit carries over into our home. I hear him singing the old hymns he loves all during the day and he actually remembers the words! I thank God for this program and the difference it has made in his life and mine.”

Modeled after Montgomery (Ala.) First United Methodist Church’s Respite Care Ministry and Lawrenceville United Methodist Church’s Grace Arbor respite care ministry, Hope Arbor provides those suffering with memory impairment and their caregivers support, encouragement, and a few hours of normalcy.

“Every family I know has had someone with Alzheimer’s or someone with some form of dementia, and it’s very difficult to care for their loved one sometimes,” said Brooke Chambers, Isle of Hope UMC’s Director of Hope Arbor and Stephen Ministries. “Most people who have walked this walk would have given anything for this kind of socialization and stimulation for their loved one.”

Hope Arbor also offers a Tuesday-morning support group for caregivers, giving spouses and other family members a safe place to connect and share.

“We want to provide them the tools to help them live a better quality of life while they are walking this walk with their loved ones,” Chambers said.

The only church-based respite care ministry in the Savannah area, Chambers hopes Hope Arbor will inspire other congregations in South Georgia to see the need in their communities and consider how they can support those who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“This is a need everywhere,” she said. “So many people have been touched by memory impairment. Whether it has been with a loved one or a friend, this can be a terrible journey. We at Isle of Hope UMC know we can’t always change things, but we certainly can support families with love and do our best to provide joy. We can be the hands and feet of Christ to these families. We can provide information and connect people with resources in our community. We can provide rest for a caregiver while their loved one is in a joyful, dignified place surrounded by friends.”   

Hope Arbor has given Chuck Maner a sense of belonging, a feeling of respect, and importance. There’s nowhere else like it, Beth Maner says.

“This program gives us something to look forward to, some hope, and that adds a lot of happiness to our lives,” she said. “Our lives have changed drastically, and this gives us some normalcy. Seeing him happy and exciting makes me feel good.”

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