Phillipston Resident Dee Lalonde Has Provided Adult Family Care for 19 Years (and is a mask maker extraordinaire in her spare time . . .)
- Written by Janis Merrell
- Published: 21 August 2020
Dee Lalonde is a nineteen year veteran of the Adult Family Care Program. She says it has given her and her care recipients the gift of “billions and billions of memories.”
The Adult Family Care (AFC) Program at LifePath provides care and support in a home environment for elders and people with disabilities who are age 16 and older and who have daily personal or medical care needs. AFC is available for those who need assistance with personal care and want to live in the community with a host family or individual caregiver rather than in a nursing home or other institutional setting. The host family or individual caregiver provides a private room, meals, and assistance with activities such as dressing, bathing, medication management, and transportation to medical appointments, depending on a member’s particular needs. Being part of a host family’s household gives members an opportunity to socialize, participate in family activities, and stay connected to their community.
Dee has made well over 500 masks so far, using fabric she still had from her craft store days and relying on donations.
Dee was drawn to LifePath’s AFC Program through her natural instinct to provide care. Dee used to own a craft store called “Dee’s Country Crafts” in Athol, where she would feature local artisans. Then she saw an ad in the paper from parents asking for transportation help between Phillipston and Athol. That is how she met Katie, their adult daughter with a disability. Dee started transporting Katie to Adult Day Health before opening the store. Pretty soon Katie’s parents were asking Dee to provide more hours of care.
“At a certain point I had to choose between Katie or the store. I chose Katie,” says Dee.
That is how she came to know Brian, then in his 40’s. Katie’s parents were Brian’s AFC host family for 23 years, but when they moved to Florida in 2001, Dee chose to become his caregiver.
Early on, Dee remembers taking Brian to an animal farm in Sterling. “At the time, Brian was afraid of animals, but on that first day he went in and touched a little calf. That was the start of trust,” says Dee.
Dee also fondly recalls taking Brian with a group of other adults with disabilities on weekly trips to breakfast or lunch and then to a movie or for shopping at Walmart or Family Dollar. The group would play bingo and host cookouts for their families as well.
AFC caregivers can also provide short term respite to AFC members while their host families are on vacation. After Brian met a woman named Gail at his Adult Day Health program, Dee started hosting Gail when Gail’s usual caregivers went on vacation. This happened over the course of many years, and Gail was happy to get to spend time with her “forever boyfriend.”
Nineteen years later, Dee is still caregiver to Brian, now 63. About four years ago she also became caregiver to a second AFC member. According to Dee, Justin, 37, is “best friends” with Brian. Dee says it brings her “joy and happiness” to witness their friendship and to be able to help them through both the good times and the bad times. “Both became family,” adds Dee.
Since the pandemic began, Justin has not been able to go to Adult Day Health and has been staying home with Brian. They play games together, including video games. “It’s so easy to get them engaged,” says Dee, who is extremely careful to protect them from COVID-19 via social distancing, including maintaining social distancing herself. To pass the time while they distance together, Dee began making masks.
“I was locked in, felt helpless, and asked myself what I could do,” explains Dee. “You can’t put a price on saving someone’s life,” she says, adding that in addition to donating the masks to LifePath’s Meals on Wheels program, the Phillipston Police and Fire & Rescue Departments, and the Templeton Police Department, she has also put a sawhorse outside her house (to maintain social distancing) with a sign telling people to text her with their name and sizing information and she’ll make them one. Dee has made well over 500 masks so far, using fabric she still had from her craft store days and relying on donations. She can always use more fabric as well.
As with her AFC caregiving, Dee went the extra mile according to mask recipient Marilyn Abbot. “Like most people [my husband and I] needed to find masks to protect us from the virus. I had cancer of the voice box (no, I never smoked) that left me with a hole in my neck called a ‘stoma.’ I needed a special mask. We were driving down a country road when I spotted a mailbox with the word ‘masks’ on it. Later, I went back, and there was Dee standing among all different masks of all different colors and patterns. I explained I needed a special mask. She eagerly took on the task. A couple of days later I had my mask. Actually, she made two. It covered my stoma! I asked her how much they were and she said ‘they’re free.’ I figure angels know how to sew!” says Marilyn.
Although mask making has been a fulfilling addition to Dee’s day, her priority is always the health and happiness of Brian and Justin. While Brian is now nonverbal, he used to enjoy singing. Now Dee sings songs to him, including one of his favorites: Debby Boone’s classic “You Light Up My Life.” Brian lights up Dee’s life, and she does the same for him.