When Sandy Mush native Leah Lineberry stepped into the director's job at Life Care Adult Day Services, she followed a passion that "grasped" her when she was 17 years old.
Patience and compassion are the top priorities for the now 23-year-old caregiving, administrator, and college student in her new job.
She and her boss, Amanda Freeman, laughed when suddenly Freeman realized, "You were born the year I started work."
Actually Freeman started working for Rutherford Life Service in '96 and Lindberry assured her she had already been born in '95. Still it was quite a contrast as the two women talked about their work with disabled persons of all ages.
Rutherford Life Services, once known as the Vocational Workshop, is the hub agency that operates Chuck's Place, and the larger work of the Life Services agency; The Learning Tree, a child care center for disabled and other children; and Life Care, where Lineberry is the new director.
A new service will open soon on Main Street, Forest City called Utopia, a store that will feature arts and crafts products of the adults who work with the agency. Freeman added, "Maybe from children, too."
The grasp that took hold of Lineberry at 17 was the need for patience and compassion in dealing with disabled adults.
She talked about a particularly tough patient, a woman who did not want to do anything she was asked to do, including use the bathroom. When it was time for a bathroom break, Lineberry went to her with patience and compassion. The woman took the bathroom break. Lineberry described the work as having "grasp" her.
Freeman got a grasp, too, 23 years ago after her first day at work.
Her then boyfriend and now husband, Benson, asked her why she was crying. She said the needs were just so great.
"Do you think those people think there is anything wrong with them?" he asked. "You're probably the one who's different."
The needs are great. Life Care is populated with wheelchairs and walkers. Patients need skilled nursing and family members who drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the evening need the breaks from the rigors of what often amounts to full-time care.
The Rev. Travis Smith, who runs Blue Ridge Hope in downtown Forest City preceded Lineberry in the job and recommended her. He said of her, "Leah is an amazing caregiver and leader. The gifts she brings, such as her ability to make compassionate yet sustainable decisions, will prove to be a tremendous value to Life Care."
While there is the occasional referral from a doctor's office or the Department of Social Services, most patients come into the adult day care through word of mouth. Family members refer friends and neighbors. Word of the service spreads through churches and other community groups.
Freeman said unfortunately families often wait too long. "By the time they come to us, we often need to place them in nursing homes."
If nursing homes can be avoided, Life Care offers a beautiful setting on Thunder Road in Rutherford. Services beyond skilled nursing include meals and activities.
During a recent visit, Outreach Coordinator Jimmy Hamilton was playing the piano and leading a hymn singing.
Freeman, who succeeded Larry Brown in the job says the people they serve have become family.
"They're included in birthdays, weddings, baby showers," Freeman said. "We still cry together sometimes, but mostly we laugh."
As a young girl, Lineberry dreamed of becoming an engineer. Now she engineers caregiving for a vulnerable senior population. She is studying for a degree in nursing which she plans to finish in the next 15 months.
Freeman's dream was to become a coach. Now she coaches a large staff on the values of patience and compassion in caring for the disabled from the cradle into senior adulthood.
Chuck's Place is part of Rutherford Life Services. It serves those who are not quite up to a full day's work, but are still capable of being involved. Chuck Griffith, for whom the program was named, is still a participant, often decked out in Carolina blue, as he is a serious Carolina fan.
Freeman often threatens to dress Chuck in Wolfpack red, but he says, "I don't think so, girl." He says if he wears any red, it will be for East High School.
Chuck's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Griffith, were instrumental in raising the funds and creating the community support necessary to establish many of the programs at Rutherford Life Services, but especially Chuck's Place.
Freeman, who grew up in Sunshine, says the agency is funded through various grants and government programs. Some of their patients are veterans and the VA helps with them. Others actually receive services for free.
"As long as we are afloat, there will be some pro bono services," Freeman said.
Hamilton, who leads hymn singing among his other work, has recently earned the title of Outreach Coordinator and will be available to talk with civic clubs and church groups about the daycare on Thunder Road.
Life Care Adult Day Services operates from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached at 828-288-1697.