The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is astoundingly beautiful with rolling hills, green pastures and country back roads. The rural nature of this area that brings such beauty also has the ability to be a source of isolation, particularly for older adults.
Neighbors are spread further apart and the nearest doctor's office probably isn't just around the corner.
Thanks to the collaboration of several Lutheran churches in the area and a $ 20,000 grant from National Lutheran Communities and Services, the older adults of Shenandoah are being served by a Faith Community Nurse.
The catalyst for this ministry was Rev. Mary Louise Brown, a retired pastor who used to serve at St. Luke's Lutheran Church near Woodstock, VA. What is unique about Rev. Brown is that she also has a nursing background.
"When I would visit my congregants in their homes, knowing that I was also a nurse would also prompt them to ask me questions that they probably would not ask a pastor," said Rev. Brown. "So I definitely saw a need."
After speaking to several pastors in the area, a committee was formed in 2013 which soon partnered with Shenandoah Valley Lutheran Ministries (SVLM). SVLM is a network of eight Lutheran churches in the Valley that work together to implement ministries such as a backpack feeding program that may be too much for any one congregation to take on.
|Pastor Mary Louise Brown (right) looks on as Jean Coffman (left) signs her contract.
The culmination of those meetings and the efforts of the churches was Jeannie Coffman, the faith community nurse who began in May of 2015. Jeannie doesn't necessarily do much hands on care, but she does act as an advocate and a resource for older adults in the area.
Visiting patients who are living at home, checking blood pressure and providing medical advice are all in a day's work for Jeannie. She will also accompany her patients to the doctor's office or the hospital so that she can help translate medical terminology (in fact she was with a patient in the hospital while being asked about her position for this article).
Besides the practical care and medical advice that Jeannie brings after over 35 years of experience as a registered nurse, Rev. Brown also says that, "Jeannie brings her faith to every situation. She is embodying the spirit of Christ in her ministry."
Jeannie not only closes with prayer after every visit or appointment, she also views her position as much more than a job.
"I think I bring a caring touch and bring these older adults joy in knowing that someone cares about them," Jeannie said. "For people who have become really isolated, that's really important, and I think I give them a sense that God cares about them too."
The ministry of the Faith Community Nurse would have been next to impossible without the partnership with National Lutheran Communities and Services (NLCS).
NLCS awarded a $22,000 grant for the first year of the Faith Community Nurse program and another $20,000 for 2016.
"It says a lot for NLCS and their vision for helping our seniors," said Rev. Brown.
That vision of NLCS is something that Kathryn Baerwald, the Chief Philanthropy Officer of NLCS, affirms.
"The grant program is part of our mission, which is to serve older adults in the three synods of which we are a part. While we focus on residential communities we realized that is not accomplishing our entire mission. Some of the needs of older adults are just not things that NCLS does but we can partner with other organizations."
Shenandoah Valley is not the only area of Virginia who has benefited from the NCLS grant program. Over $221,000 was awarded to ministries in cities all over Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia such as Williamsburg, Richmond, Warrenton, and Martinsville.
View the full list of grant recipients on the NLCS website
Information about the 2017 grant program will be included in the Virginia Synod's weekly email when it is available.
These grants have meant so much for so many people and for the older adults of Shenandoah Valley it means that they have someone they can rely on like Jeannie Coffman.
"I tell them that they can call me anytime and I'll be there for them."