Interfaith Caregivers of Polk County

When Karen Krupa’s mother was told by her eye doctor she couldn’t drive anymore, her mom went back to her car and cried. Then, she drove home, closed the garage door and said, “I’m done.” Her mom arranged for a driver to take her to and from grocery shopping and medical appointments and ended up loving the volunteer company as much as she appreciated the ride. “My mom remained in her home until two months before she passed away in 2018,” said Karen, which was made possible with the help of Karen, her siblings, and other volunteers. “I was amazed that I met her favorite volunteer driver at her funeral, where we were able to trade stories about my mom,” Karen recalled.

Interfaith Caregivers know they are giving more than rides and friendly visits; they are extending the ability to age in place and with dignity.

The Heart and Hands of Polk County

Through the caregiving of both her parents, Karen knows first-hand the value of Interfaith Caregivers of Polk County. Karen is the program director of Interfaith Caregivers, which describes itself as the heart and hands of the rural Wisconsin community by providing no-charge services to seniors. Their services range from rides to the grocery store (about 150 volunteers typically log a collective 100,000 miles annually) to simply stopping by someone’s house for a visit.

Polk County, Wisconsin, like many rural counties, has an aging population. Nearly 25% of its current residents are over the age of 65. “We have a lot of proud, stubborn, independent people who are used to doing their own shopping,” said Karen, very similar to her parents. Interfaith Caregivers know they are giving more than rides and friendly visits; they are extending the ability to age in place and with dignity. Even though Interfaith Caregivers’ services are vital to the senior residents they work with, they are offered at no-cost to all.

Identifying a Hedgehog

Interfaith Caregivers attended a recent Propel training sponsored by the Hugh J. Andersen Foundation in New Richmond, Wisconsin. After the training, the Interfaith Caregivers staff returned to Propel to partner on a strategic planning process. “Strategic planning has been so easy to put on the back burner,” said Karen, who knew the organization needed to refocus on a fundraising strategy for the future, as well as ensure they are able to retain and attract talented staff and volunteers.

Karen and her team pulled together data and trends affecting their work, many of them common among rural communities: an aging population, increasing cost of healthcare, the county discontinuing homecare and housekeeping services for elderly, a decrease in number of volunteers, and the closure of local grocery stores. In addition, the team has observed more elderly residents taking on the role of caregiving for children in families affected by drug addiction. It was clear there’s an increasing need for their work. They needed to set priorities for how to best respond, given their own resource limitations.

The Interfaith board and staff worked with Jenny Kramm, one of Propel’s strategic services consultants, to prioritize their efforts over the next three years. “When nonprofits are confronted with a high number of pressing demands, it’s helpful to discuss where the nonprofit’s passion aligns with their resource engine and what the organization is best at, which we call their ‘Hedgehog concept,’” said Jenny, referring to a concept from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. The Interfaith staff and board came together for a retreat to identify their hedgehog concept and articulate key activities that protect and advance that focus.

The Interfaith Caregivers team agreed that their core essence is their people: their staff, their volunteers, and their clients. All their strategic goals, from marketing to fundraising to programming, were developed with an eye to recruiting more volunteers, who are the lifeblood of their work; to retaining the talented staff who coordinate all the work and the client requests; and ultimately, to best responding to the needs of their senior community members and those with disabilities. After identifying their hedgehog and setting goals around it, they are already diving into action plans for the next three years. “Taking the time to pause, look ahead, and focus together has fired us up to get stuff done!” said Karen.

Paying it Forward

The economic benefits of the Interfaith Caregivers volunteer network are hard to quantify, and the emotional and social benefits even more so. Yet the team has years of anecdotes from grateful seniors and their families, as well as volunteers, who appreciate the opportunity to pay their services forward. Many invest because they’ll be on the receiving end someday. Plus, they know it doesn’t take much to make a difference in the life of a neighbor. “When I saw what my mom and dad went through, I came to realize the huge value of the really small things,” said Karen.

To learn more and support the work of Interfaith Caregivers, visit their website: They’re always looking for new volunteers!

Photos: Interfaith Caregivers of Polk County

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