organize volunteer group to reach out to the community
Some years ago, a 5-year-old boy was found wandering alone
the beach at Ocracoke Island's South Point. The story he told was
heart-rending. His brother, two years older, had
far out into the channel and had been caught in a rip
current. The father, seeing his son pulled under, had
to save him. Neither had returned. No one knew how
contact the boy's mother, so for four days National Park Service
rangers were left, with the help of the local doctor, caring for the
child -- a job they were ill-prepared to undertake
This is just one example of the kind of crisis that being on the
isolated island of Ocracoke can lead to, and it’s the reason for a new
volunteer program on the island called "Ocracare Outreach."
Ocracokers have a strong tradition of looking out for each other, as
well as for strangers if need be. There are times, however, when extra
assistance is needed. That is why three island residents got
together to formulate a plan that would coordinate volunteers to help
provide assistance to those in need.
These might be people who are aged or ill, and who may not be
to drive or do all of their household chores. The program would also
provide assistance to family members who have to work and need a break
from their caregiving tasks or don't have time to transport a parent
for hospital treatments.
It would also address the needs of visitors, such as the ones
mentioned above, who find themselves in some kind of emergency
situation. It is a way of organizing Ocracoke’s traditional ways of
caring for each other within the community and looking out for one
another to assure that no one is left in need.
“I’ve been aware for a long time of how hard it is for older
people living so far away from many services," says Susan Dodd, one of
the facilitators of this program. "About a year ago, I thought I would
start asking questions of others in the community and see what they
thought. I expected to be discouraged, but I got enthusiastic
Susan, a native of Chicago and a former writer and teacher who lives
full-time on Ocracoke now, teamed up with Ingeborg Frye and Ken
DeBarth, both of whom have training and experience in health and social
service fields, with the idea of forming a network of volunteers who
could perform a number of tasks.
They looked into forming a non-profit organization, but realized that
the costs of getting non-profit status and providing liability
insurance for the volunteers would be prohibitive.
Instead they approached Laura Stern, the new minister at the United
Methodist Church, about operating under the umbrella of the church’s
non-profit status. The pastor, who believes strongly that the church
should be involved in community outreach, was encouraging.
She agreed, and the group was able to move forward using the church’s
legal status and liability insurance. Dodd emphasizes, however, that
even though the program will operate under the umbrella of the
Methodist Church, the group is not a church function and does not have
Ocracare will not have an office, but will have a cell phone and a cell
phone number that will always be available for those needing help. The
phone will be passed around among the volunteers who monitor it.
Ingeborg Frye, who moved to the United States from the
Netherlands 25 years ago and has made Ocracoke her home for 10 years,
explains that "Due to the geographic location of Ocracoke, we are
forced to rely on our own resources...This is an ideal community to
implement a program like this."
Frye, now the after-school librarian at the Ocracoke Library, has a
background in home health care and hospice and a master’s degree in
sociology. Currently pursuing a grief management degree, she feels that
her resources can be a valuable asset to the project as it moves
Ken DeBarth, who was part of the original steering committee
involved in putting this together, is a long-time resident of Ocracoke
and a physician’s assistant (PA) with 30 years of experience in primary
care. He describes the Ocracare program as a clearing house for
coordinating volunteers and the people needing their assistance, adding
that it can be a "vital service for the community."
Ocracare Outreach is not a hospice program, nor will it
financial assistance. It will be available for anyone who needs help,
regardless of income or age. This help includes such tasks as friendly
visits, daily phone check-ins, respite care for family or friends,
meals, shopping and errands, child care, pet care, prescription
pick-up, medical paperwork assistance, emergency support for visitors,
transportation to the Ocracoke Health Center and off-island
appointments, and hospital/nursing home visits.
There will also be off-island "Ocracare friends" in communities where
Ocracokers may go to hospitals who can provide transportation, support,
and possibly a place to stay after release. One of the most important
results of the program will be that more aging people will be able to
stay home at Ocracoke, instead of going to nursing homes or
off island facilities.
A brochure on the program is in the works to let Ocracokers and
visitors know about the services offered, and Dodd and Frye expect to
have a meeting of volunteers in early January of 2011. They hope to
begin services soon after that.
There are currently at least 20 volunteers signed up to help,
the organizers are hoping more will sign on. It is hoped that in the
future young people, ages 12 and up, will be able to participate in the
program, providing such services as visiting, walking dogs, and mowing
lawns. The biggest overall need is for transportation off the island
for medical appointments.
All volunteers will be expected to respect their clients’
confidentiality and make sure that what is said and done stays behind
Ocracoke seniors have previously had the services of
"Meals-on-Wheels," but this program ended last June when the
supervisor, Sue O’Neal, retired. Dodd and Frye hope to see
service resume and to have Ocracare Outreach work closely with it.
According to Susan Dodd, who is on the board of the Ocracoke
Health Center, "Health care is the biggest challenge of living on
Ocracoke, and everyone of us has to deal with it."
She hopes, however, that getting health care will become easier here,
not only because of this program but because the Health Center is
applying to become a federally qualified center, which would make it
eligible for federal funds and more services and staff.
Ocracoke is a great place to live -- as well as to visit -- and the
Ocracare Outreach volunteers hope to make it easier for aging and/or
ill residents to stay here for as long as they want and to get the help
they might require.
All are encouraged to participate, as volunteers if you are able or as
clients, if you need extra help.
For more information or to volunteer or ask for help, call Susan Dodd
at 252-928-3888 or Ingeborg Frye at 252-921-0128.