NYYM’s ARCH Program: Aging is What We All Do.
by Carl Blumenthal
NYYM’s Aging, Resources, Consultation, and Help (ARCH) program is a “radical experiment, a major shift in the way Quakers care for each other,’” according to director Callie Janoff.
How so? Quakers are better at giving than receiving help. ARCH levels the playing field between generosity and gratitude. Like me (age 67) most of the volunteers who visit our older and disabled Friends in their homes are also “of a certain age.”
As volunteers listen to the concerns of these Quakers and help them find resources that meet their needs, we begin to confront our own “stuff”—how to thrive in the last third of life. Such reciprocity allows our spirits to grow even as we age. This is what ministry is all about.
As an ARCH volunteer, I am trained in “motivational interviewing.” Like us, our peers are challenged by decision-making, especially to maintain independence.
I explore ambivalence by listening in empathy to older Friends’ concerns, inviting consideration of pros and cons with tender questions, and validating whatever they can do no matter how small the action. If this means asking for help, I encourage them to do so but don’t respond without their OK.
Here are some anecdotes by ARCH volunteers:
- Despite initially resisting assistance, a heart attack survivor feels supported enough by her ARCH visitor to help care for her neighbor’s garden.
- One ARCH volunteer learns, “Dying people often hang on until their care-givers grant them permission to die.”
- An ARCH meeting for worship in an elder’s home demonstrates the spiritual power of communal prayer.
- Building on AVP, ARCH visitors share the hopes and fears of Friends being released from prison.
- A man in hospice describes the cars he loves and asks his ARCH visitor to make copies of the list for the sons he never mentioned.
- One Friendly visitor sits quietly with a Roman Catholic lady as she fingers her rosary beads. In the end they say “Amen.”
- Another one honors her deceased parents by advocating for older Quakers—to age with dignity at home rather than without respect in hospitals.
While we at ARCH gain momentum in our 10th year, the program is still “a revolution in the making.”
Our goal is to renew Friendship as an everyday connection, not just a meet and greet on Sundays. ARCH also aims to involve all generations in a program that can rejuvenate meetings. As one visitor put it, “Aging is what we all do.” ARCH is a model for both spiritual and secular nurture of our elders.
For more information: ARCH c/o NYYM, Callie Janoff, director, (347) 249-8470, 15 Rutherford Place 10003, nyym.org/content/arch, [email protected]. We invite you to request a workshop or program at your meeting, become a volunteer, and/or contribute financially.