April 24, 2003
Living the Beatitudes
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
Binghamton Couple Honored for their Work with Caregivers
Although it happened six years ago, Paul Chambers can vividly recall his first time volunteering with Caregivers, an interfaith program which provides free assistance to elderly and other challenged individuals.
“There was an older woman who needed her clothesline replaced. A pretty simple job, I just had to climb to the top of a stepladder and change it –– but I don’t like heights,” joked Paul. “I remember climbing up the ladder thinking to myself, ‘What an introduction to Caregivers!’” Since that call, there have been no more high climbs for Paul, but he and Joan, his wife of 44 years, have soared with their involvement in Caregivers. Together, they have regularly, yet quietly, helped to improve the quality of life for hundreds of people in their community. And together, they will be honored for this commitment as the recipients of the Fifth Annual Interfaith Volunteers Caregivers Program Award, presented by the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers of Broome County.
Paul and Joan, parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City, have careers of their own. Joan is an interior decorator and Paul, though retired since 1996, still teaches two philosophy courses a semester at Broome Community College in Binghamton. And after raising five sons, they might want some time for themselves, one might think. But anyone who knows Paul and Joan knows this is not the case. “Paul and Joan are such generous people. They have so much going on in their own lives, but they somehow find time to help those among us who are struggling,” said Joanne Kayes, director of the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program.
Several times a week, Kayes calls the couple on behalf of Caregivers and requests their help. Driving the elderly to the grocery store, taking a sick person to the hospital, or simply stopping in to visit with someone who is lonely are just some of the things she asks them to do. “They always say yes,” Kayes said. The pair admits that they were a bit surprised upon being told that they will receive an award. Paul and Joan view their work with Caregivers is an extension of their faith. “We are called to live out the Beatitudes –– to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the poor,” Joan pointed out, “so being recognized for something that we are supposed to be doing seemed odd.” Paul added that their commitment to Caregivers is a way to serve a community that has given so much to them. “You can always find time to do what you want to do. We wanted to give back to the community,” he said.
Both agree that although a rewarding experience, Caregivers can be challenging at times, not because of the constant phone calls that come in asking for their help, but because of the relationships that are formed with the people they aid, noted Joan. It can be hard to get close to these people, many of whom are elderly and close to death, and then watch them die, Joan said. She remembered one woman in particular whom she grew especially close to while driving her to and from dialysis at General Hospital and sitting with her for three hours three times a week while she went through the painful ordeal. She passed away a year ago, Joan said. “You get attached to these people. They really touch your life,” she said. Although there are sad moments, the couple’s years with Caregivers have been filled with happiness, not just for the people they have helped, but also for themselves. As Paul explained, the people are not the only ones getting something from this experience.
“When you help out a man who has had hip surgery and he can’t walk around, it is a reminder of how lucky you are,” said Paul. “We have been blessed.” As Paul and Joan give of their time to improve the quality of life for others, their deeds set wonderful examples for others to follow, said Kayes. She is honored to present them with the award at a breakfast at the Binghamton Regency on May 9. “It takes a special kind of person to do this work –– someone who is compassionate, faithful and wants to help –– and Paul and Joan are very special people,” Kayes said.
And while Paul and Joan are certainly a remarkable couple, they do not see themselves as extraordinary. In fact, they are reluctant to be in the spotlight that comes with receiving such an honor, but are pleased to accept the award in hopes of focusing attention on the Caregivers program and inspiring others to get involved. “It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness,” said Paul, recalling the slogan of The Christophers, a national organization that encourages individuals to make a difference. “To serve others and give back to the community through Caregivers is a great feeling. We want to show people the good that can come from getting involved.”
A Faith in Action program, the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers Program was established by the Broome County Council of Churches in 1996 through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant. There are over 300 Caregivers throughout Broome County who together help approximately 450 people with special needs. Volunteers represent a cross-section of age, race, gender and religious traditions. They are networked by staff with care receivers throughout Broome County by staff. For more information, visit www.broomecouncil.net