Trinity Oaks teammates Deana Burris and Deborah Tillman said they were forever changed after spending four days in Bethlehem leading dementia trainings for medical professionals and family caregivers.
“To have the opportunity to be able to go and do something like that has marked my life forever. It has changed me,” Burris, life enrichment campus director at Trinity Oaks and certified dementia care specialist, said. “It was just amazing.”
Discussion about the trip began over three years ago with Michael Connor, a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. St. John’s has a long-standing partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, who retired as pastor from that congregation, is also the founder of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, where the training was held.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Connor was contacted by Raeda Mansour, a registered nurse and the university’s intergenerational programs manager, about the much-needed training. She said they had no resources and desperately needed help.
Connor reached out to Trinity Oaks Executive Director Bill Johnson about putting together a team for the training.
“He (Johnson) came to me and asked if I would be willing to go to Bethlehem. I told him of course I would go and help develop a plan,” Burris said. “I’ve worked in dementia and Alzheimer’s for 30 years. I’ve been to workshops and gotten numerous certifications.”
Tillman, social worker at Trinity Oaks, was also selected to attend due to her specific education and training in dementia care. She is certified in advanced clinical dementia practice.
The group began to meet monthly on Zoom to create the curriculum for the training. Even though the world was grappling with a deadly disease, they didn’t stop planning.
“I really felt like at this point, it was almost a commission from God. And I thought, where He sends me, I will go,” Burris said. “This was a mission that was meant to be. Lutheran Services Carolinas put so much work and effort into this. St. John’s put so much work into this. Raeda put so much work into this. We are going to do.”
The time finally came to go in March 2022. Burris, Tillman, and Connor were joined by Susan Shinn Turner, staff writer for St. John’s, and her husband, Jim, who provided communications support and shared the experience on social media along the way.
The team led four days of training with the help of interpreters. The first two days were for medical professionals and the second two were for family members and caregivers. The goal was to train these individuals and give them resources so they can train more people.
For Tillman, the best part of the trip was training the families.
“It was very humbling, partly because I realized how few resources they had for dementia care and how much they valued the training, but also that they made me feel like I was imparting so much wisdom,” she said. “They made me feel like what we gave them was so valuable. I felt like we were friends.”
Burris added that what she took away from the trip was far more than she was able to give those she trained.
“It makes me want to be a better person and to help more people,” she said. “I’m very thankful I was given that opportunity.”