Volunteer respite caregiver Norm Dermody with care receiver John Mulhern

By Arlene Schragger. Photography by Joan Sorge

In 1996, concerned individuals from Southern Ocean County Hospital, Saint Francis Community Center, and representatives of seven area congregations met to discuss the needs of the elderly, vulnerable, and home bound residents of Southern Ocean County. Their goal was to form an organization by bringing together healthcare professionals and volunteer caregivers to help bridge the gaps in services available to those in need.

After much work, in 1997 Interfaith Health and Support Services (IHSS) was incorporated as a non-profit organization. Just one year later, IHSS opened its doors. Within ten months, the small startup had grown to serve 160 clients.

Today, Interfaith Health and Support Services is a coalition of different faith-based communities, healthcare, and social service organizations that provides volunteer physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the vulnerable aged or disabled residents of Southern Ocean County who are living at home. In 2019, more than 275 volunteers provided over 8,000 hours of services to those in need. All services are provided free of charge.

Twenty-three congregations from Barnegat, Little Egg Harbor, Long Beach Island, Manahawkin, Tuckerton, Waretown, and West Creek participate in providing volunteers. Volunteer caregivers provide support through visits, transportation, shopping, telephone reassurance, and Alzheimer’s disease respite care. IHSS volunteers are typically people who want to help others through volunteer community services.

Marie Logue of Long Beach Island is a retired administrator from Rutgers University. For the past five years Marie has been a volunteer with IHSS and currently serves as Vice President. “So many retired people in this area depend on friends and neighbors for help with daily living because they do not have family living close by,” said Marie. “We are all dependent on each other.” That is where IHSS comes in.

Judy Struble, from Manahawkin, has been a volunteer with IHSS for nineteen years. As a retired nurse, Judy assesses the needs of a potential client and the safety of the environment for the volunteer. “The sooner I can do the assessments, the sooner people can receive the services they need,” says Judy. Judy’s husband has Alzheimer’s disease; they have benefited from IHSS’s respite care program. In addition to volunteering as a retired healthcare professional, Judy has spent many afternoons as a volunteer caregiver. “I visited with an elderly woman every Sunday until she passed recently at the age of 101.”

As a pro baseball player, Norm Dermody pitched for the Dodgers before becoming a coach and teacher for thirty years. Now retired and living in Waretown, Norm and his wife, Helen, volunteer with IHSS. He has even inspired some of his friends to volunteer. “I meet people who need assistance and I think how lucky I am to be able to help,” says Norm. “People are so grateful.”

Kathi Cheeseman retired from a full-time job as a professional assistant at Southern Regional Middle School and one month later answered the call for IHSS volunteers. Now serving as Director for IHSS, Kathi says, “It is a pleasure to help those who are in need, who so appreciate the care they receive, and whose stories are fantastic to listen to.” As director, Kathi faces the important challenge of finding volunteers. Volunteers are always needed, especially in the off-season. “In the winter, we lose thirty-percent of our volunteers when they leave the area,” says Kathi. “Volunteers are the heart of the organization.”

Recently, Interfaith Health and Support Services was selected by OceanFirst Bank, the Grunin Foundation, and Townsquare Media to receive special recognition through the Acts of Kindness Program for continuing to provide services to their clients and assisting anyone in need during the current COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of this crisis, IHSS has not closed its doors, but instead expanded assistance to anyone within the community who is in need. Since April, in addition to continuing client services like grocery shopping and transportation to vital appointments, IHSS volunteers have raised money and collected goods to help restock area food pantries. The small volunteer staff created emergency boxes containing food and supplies for those in need. Interfaith Health and Support remains open to assist anyone in the community.

Interfaith Health and Support Services of Ocean County is located on the campus of Hackensack Meridian Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, New Jersey. Volunteers and donations are always welcomed. For more information, please visit them on the web at interfaithsoc.org follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/ihsssoc/ or call the office at 609-978-3839

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