Catholic Charities adult day center offers clients loving care, respite for caregivers

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Adult Day Center, located at St. Lucy Parish in St. Clair Shores, is one of two such centers in southeast Michigan. The centers provide loving care for adults who need companionship, supervision and assistance, and a much-needed break to overworked caregivers. (Photos by Gabriella Patti | Detroit Catholic)

While clients are treated to a day of socialization and stimulating activities, caregivers get a chance to refill their own emotional tanks

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Four days a week, Dominic Perrino holds his wife’s hand and walks her into Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Adult Day Center for a day of socialization and activities. 

The center, located at St. Lucy Church, provides Olga Perrino with stimulation and community in the form of daily sing-alongs, puzzles and kind caregivers. It also provides Dominic an opportunity for respite from the never-ending emotional and physical toll of caring for a loved one. 

Olga, along with four other clients who visited the Adult Day Center on Aug. 19, has dementia, and as important as it is for her cognitive health to be there, it’s just as important for their caregivers, who often are spouses, said program director Nikki Harvey. 

“You can’t be a good caregiver unless you get that respite or that break for yourself,” Harvey told Detroit Catholic. “If you are a full-time caregiver, you can’t be expected to put on a sing-along and do mentally stimulating activities when you are trying to pay your own bills and clean your house and run your own errands.”

Instead of putting their loved ones in front a television all day, clients can bring them to the center, where staff and other guests provide a welcoming environment, Harvey said.  

“Here, they are socializing, they are exercising, which means that they are typically going to be more tired at night,” Harvey said. “They are going to sleep well. It is just as important for the caregiver to get respite.”

The center at St. Lucy is one of two such care centers run by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. The other is located in Oakland County near Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn Hills. Since 1983, Catholic Charities has provided supervised daytime care and activities for adults who are forgetful, confused, or physically frail and need loving, supervised assistance during the day. 

Catholic Charities’ Adult Day Center in Oakland County has offered services to vulnerable seniors and their caregivers since 1983, the longest-running program of its kind in the county. Catholic Charities in Macomb County has provided adult day services since 1984.

The group does sing-alongs every day, and around once a month, a musician comes to perform for them. 

The current group is small, Harvey said. Operating as a staff of two with two consistent volunteers, the center is currently using a temporary single classroom, with a plan to move into the former YMCA day care space next door.

The center can accommodate any adult over the age of 18 who needs assistance, supervision or company, Harvey said. However, the average age of program participants in St. Clair Shores is around 75 years old, and all have some form of dementia.

The day care center is staffed by two full-time employees and two regular volunteers, and the group currently meets in a single classroom, with a plan to move into the former YMCA day care space next door. 

Every day, the group begins with a history lesson, breathing exercises and sharing of memories and stories. Harvey said activities are mentally and physically stimulating, such as card games, bingo, bowling and beach ball toss. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, clients would receive visits from Girl Scouts, and were provided with cooking and baking opportunities and animal therapy. 

“We sing every single day,” Harvey said. “Since we reopened, we have utilized technology a lot more. We used to do things pen and paper, but now we do (activities) on the TV.”

Olga Perrino has been attending the program for two years and doesn’t miss a day, Dominic Perrino said. 

“She loves it here. Not only do the people treat her well, but they are super nice and she enjoys it. They have a lot of activities that she does –– they paint; they exercise,” Dominic said. “We don’t socialize too much because it is hard for her, so this is good social time for her.”

Olga Perrino said she is not normally talkative, but “here I talk to everybody.” Her husband, Dominic, drops her off four days a week so that she can socialize and he can take a healthy break from the stress of caregiving. 

While Olga stays at the center, Dominic uses the time to see his grandkids and play golf. Caring for Olga can be challenging, Dominic said, as she often repeats herself and struggles to remember. However, he feels she is treated with dignity by the caregivers at the center. 

“Sometimes when you are in the lowest place, you find the best people,” Dominic said. “It’s not about the place; it’s the people who handle it. “

Olga thrives with socialization and told Detroit Catholic she enjoys the puzzles and singing. 

“I really like it here. I am usually not very talkative, but here I talk to everybody,” Olga said. 

While the program serves clients and their caregivers, it also provides an opportunity for the volunteers to give back. Cathy Campbell was looking for something to fill her time after retiring, and a friend alerted her to Catholic Charities. 

“My mom had Alzheimer’s, my dad had dementia, and I was an only child,” Campbell said. “If I had known there was a service like this at the time, it would have been so rewarding because the caregiver is tired 24/7. It is a hard job.”

Olga Perrino listens to the daily history lesson. The group does breathing exercises and shares memories and stories each day. Harvey said the center keeps activities mentally and physically stimulating, such as card games, bingo, bowling and beach ball toss.

Campbell said she strives to be the kind of volunteer she would want for her parents out of a care program like this one. 

“You want someone to be kind and gentle and understanding,” Campbell said. “It is about giving and giving from the heart. It is not about a paycheck — not at all.” 

Working with dementia and Alzheimer’s clients takes patience and understanding — including a willingness to listen to the same stories over and over, Campbell said, which is why it’s so critical for caregivers to get respite. 

“You need to have a quiet space for yourself for when this is all over with at the end of the day,” Campbell said. “Go get your nails done, go and turn on ‘Chicago PD.’ You have to take care of yourself –– that is the one thing you need in order to care for others.”

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration

In-person registration for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration on Sept. 11 at the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit is sold out, but registration for the virtual livestream is still available for $25. 

This event will include a performance by Catholic singer, storyteller, and inspirational speaker ValLimar Jansen. Proceeds from the event support Catholic Charities’ offices and ministries throughout Metro Detroit, which serve an estimated 20,000 individuals each year.