Spiritual Caregiver Volunteers Offer Support for Trying Times

Jeanne Leyden prides herself on being a good listener, and she’s using that skill to help others through the Spiritual Caregiver program at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES).

Spiritual Caregiver Volunteers
Adult Family Care Director Jeanne Leyden (front, second from left) recently graduated the spiritual caregiver program at SCES, which is taught by Rachel Guaraldi (back row, second from right).

A registered nurse and program director at SCES, Leyden recently completed the 50-hour training program for spiritual caregivers. She expects to start offering help this summer, meeting with a client for one hour each week.

“You’re matched with somebody who needs some kind of spiritual help—perhaps they’ve lost a loved one or are going through a divorce—but they need somebody to come and spend some time with them,” said Leyden. “It’s really to listen and try to encourage them.”

Leyden is one of eight volunteers who completed the SCES Spiritual Caregiver training in May. The volunteers will work with clients who’ve been referred to the program by SCES case managers. They’ll also meet monthly for peer discussion and continuing education, said Spiritual Care Coordinator Rachel Guaraldi. She said they provide support for a variety of issues, in a manner that’s pretty universal.

“The training and program in general is interfaith,” she said. “The program is geared toward providing spiritual and emotional care for people of all faiths.”

The program was launched five years ago by SCES Chief Financial Officer Nancy Willbanks, after a discussion with SCES social worker Cassie Cramer about spiritual health resources.

“She had assessed a client that had spiritual health concerns from loss and grief,” said Willbanks. “We thought training and ongoing support that could equip volunteers to handle those situations would be a good thing.”

Willbanks said the program provides a vital service, though she added the time commitment and nature of the work are challenges to keeping volunteers long-term. However, she noted that one caregiver, Elaine Brown, has been with the program for several years and seems to have a real calling for the work.

“She is an inspiration for me,” said Willbanks. “This program is less about the numbers and more about the quality of the interaction.”

The next Spiritual Caregiver training class begins in February.

For more information about the Spiritual Caregiver program, contact Guaraldi at 617-628-2601, ext. 3173 or rguaraldi@eldercare.org.