Many years ago, when John lived in Washington, D.C., he volunteered at an organization that provided reading services for the blind. He enjoyed that volunteer role because he was able to work one-on-one with an older adult. When John relocated to Cary in 2000, he looked for a similar organization and put it on the back burner when he did not find what he was looking for. In 2019, after John retired as a technology director for the world’s largest manufacturer of ATM machines where he had worked for 34 years, he began his search again for a meaningful way to volunteer. He heard about The Center for Volunteer Caregiving from someone at Dorcas Ministry in Cary. John found The Center’s webpage and signed up to volunteer.
After becoming an active volunteer with The Center, John looked through the long list of volunteer opportunities. He was immediately drawn to the description of Caleb, a 36-year old Army veteran who had suffered a traumatic brain injury during a deployment accident 13 years before that. His wife and full-time caregiver is Kathleen, and they have two children. This has been John’s one and only caregiver respite match for the past 3+ years. Except for a brief time during the COVID lockdowns, John has visited with Caleb every Monday since February 2020. John said that the fact that Caleb was a veteran was why that volunteer opportunity appealed to him. He describes himself as very patriotic and believes strongly in supporting veterans. He also volunteers several times each month for the USO. “I am trying to meet a need.”
John and Caleb have the same routine every week which makes organizing their visits very simple. John’s other commitments are scheduled around his time with Caleb. Every Monday, he and Caleb spend a few hours together. John likes to get Caleb out of the house so his wife, Kathleen, can have a true break. They go to lunch, talk, and play card games. Caleb’s favorite card game is one he invented called “Pointy 8” which is similar to Crazy 8, but with some unique rules. This games involves a point system where Caleb keeps score and adds to a running total every week. Now the points are up in the thousands! John said that Caleb beats him every week.
As is common with The Center’s volunteers, John feels he receives back so much more than he gives. The most rewarding part of his time is “just to be a blessing to Caleb and Kathleen and to have developed this relationship over the years.” They both share a love of hockey and the Hurricanes. Caleb used to play sled hockey. (If you are not familiar with sled hockey, we encourage you to google it!) John and Caleb now have matching sweatshirts for sled hockey.
Caregiver and wife, Kathleen, said, “As I sit and think about what to say about Mr. John, many things come to mind and the words of how grateful our whole family is for him could fill a page. However, the thought that warms my heart the most . . . is how, during dinner, our family writes down what we’re thankful for that day. Often, we have to help Caleb think of something by reminding him about his day. Every Monday though it never fails that Caleb [remembers and] says ‘Mr. John’.”
When asked what is the best part of his experience, John said, “At this point, Caleb is a very dear friend. We talk about our families and pray together. . . . I’ve tried to do a good job expressing how much I enjoy being with Caleb. It’s easy to do and my pleasure. I’d encourage anybody that is retired like I am, if you’ve got the time to do it, do it. It’s awesome!”