Lori's Hands Fosters Connects Generations Between Students and Community Members with Chronic Illness


(L-R) Keen Parra, Janet Yoakam, Antonia Gitau. Courtesy of Lori’s Hands

In Southeast Michigan, a unique program called Lori's Hands is bridging the gap between generations, providing support for community members with chronic illnesses while enriching the educational experience of local college students.

Maddi Riemenschneider is the Chapter Manager of Lori's Hands in Metro Detroit. They explain how the organization orchestrates weekly visits from college volunteers to individuals in need, creating mutually beneficial relationships that often extend beyond mere assistance.

"We connect college students to folks in the community who have chronic illness," Riemenschneider explains. “The range of chronic illnesses they work with is broad, encompassing cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and more. The principle is simple yet profound. Two students are paired with a client to offer help and companionship for at least a semester, fostering an environment where intergenerational connections thrive.”

(L-R) Maddi Riemenschneider, Lonna Brown, Alex Crim. Photo by Doug Marrin.

The volunteers address whatever the need may be. Many times, simple tasks such as running a vacuum are much more difficult for people with chronic diseases. The students help with those things. Throughout their four-month assignment, a relationship develops between client and caregiver. One of the most significant services Lori’s Hands provides is simply having someone take an interest in a client and offer a listening ear.

“This is a great experience for our volunteers,” says Riemenschneider. “It's a lot of intergenerational connection that is mutually beneficial. Those are things that are really important to our program.”

Lori's Hands started in 2009 on the East Coast, conceived by Sarah, a University of Delaware student whose mother, Lori, battled breast cancer. Witnessing the challenges of chronic illness that weren't addressed by the healthcare system, Sarah sought to fill the void with social support and practical help. The program, honoring her late mother, has since expanded, reaching Baltimore in 2020 and the metro Detroit area in 2022.

(L-R) Keen Parra, Tammirah Brown, Brooklynn Wilton. Courtesy of Lori’s Hands

Lonna Brown, a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University studying social work, reflects on her experience as a volunteer and Vice President of the student club. “Companionship is a huge thing for people with chronic illnesses because a lot of times they may not have those social supports. It's nice to talk to people with all these interesting stories because they often have hidden wisdom in their stories. So, it's really sweet and beneficial.”

Alex Crim, a senior at Eastern Michigan University and an intern with Lori's Hands, shares his motivation for joining the program. "I witnessed my stepdad's dad had cancer and the difference social support made in his life," Crim says. His firsthand understanding of chronic illness, being diabetic, and living with arthritis himself drives his commitment to make a difference.

The program's impact on the volunteers is palpable. "This program has taught me how to work in real-life situations with people," Brown states, highlighting the growth of her interpersonal skills and empathy. Crim echoes this sentiment, noting the significant impact even an hour of conversation can have.

Riemenschneider points out the program's exclusivity to college students, emphasizing the educational aspect of the volunteer work. "It's not like other volunteer programs. They both help each other," they say. The experience allows students to apply their classroom learning to real-world situations, making it as much an educational endeavor as it is a volunteer service.

(L-R) Zach, John, Antonia, Alex, Lonna. Courtesy of Lori’s Hands

Despite its success, the program is not without its challenges. Riemenschneider mentions a growing client waitlist, indicating the community's need for such services. To address this, they hope to attract more community partners, donations, and grants. An upcoming event on November 29th at Bløm Meadworks in Ann Arbor is an opportunity for the community to learn more about and support Lori's Hands.

"Our older adults will tell us every week their favorite part of the week is when their students come and visit, and that's what they look forward to,” says Riemenschneider. “That's what they're excited about. It really is impactful."

To learn more about Lori’s Hands, their November 29 event, or how to support, visit https://secure.givelively.org/event/loris-hands-inc/lori-s-hands-metro-detroit-year-end-celebration

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