Defeating Isolation for Over 40 Years
Glendora Program Director Sonia Schupbach
In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Johnson of Casa Colina Rehabilitation Center in southern California knew that stroke could be incredibly isolating for both survivors and their families. He believed that isolation affected a survivor’s emotional wellbeing as well as their physical recovery. In an effort to prevent social isolation and regression, Johnson teamed up with colleague Sharon Meyers to create the Glendora After Stroke Support Group in 1973. Their plan was to create a venue where both survivors and their caregivers could partake in camaraderie with others who were going through similar life experiences. The fact they did that in the last century makes theirs one of the oldest support groups we know about.
The Glendora After Stroke Center is a no-fee program that serves the greater Los Angeles area. Glendora is a town of 50,000 about 25 miles east of Los Angeles. The current director, Sonia Schupbach, has been leading the group since 2012. She has worked with seniors for over 20 years. “I love being around these people,” she said. “They have a real zest for life.”
The group meets every Wednesday at the La Fetra Senior Center, a city-owned facility. A full day of programs starts at 9:30 in concurrent break-out groups. One group, led by assistant director Pat Kelly, focuses on relearning skills such as reading, writing and speaking. Simultaneously, a caregiver support group and a current events discussion group take place. At 11 a.m., everyone re-groups for chair exercises followed by entertainment or an educational speaker. After a low-cost lunch, the survivors convene for a support group meeting.
Field trips are planned once a quarter. Recent excursions have been to visit the space shuttle Endeavour, the LaBrea tar pits, the San Juan Capistrano Mission and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum.
In addition to these activities, a volunteer recognition banquet is held every October. “We have many, many volunteers to honor,” Schupbach said. “Even the mayor attends.” The group also celebrates Halloween with a costume contest and holds an annual Christmas party.
Being a clearinghouse of resources is another way the group supports its members. “We try to get people what they need,” Schupbach said. “For instance, when people have to take early retirement, we have a volunteer lawyer who helps them through the process at Social Security.”
It takes a budget to put on a no-fee program of this magnitude every week, as well as schedule speakers, entertainment and field trips. The Glendora group gets a portion of its budget (and the use of the La Fetra Senior Center) as a grant from the city. In addition, the group marks Stroke Awareness Month in May by mailing donation requests from members to family and friends. They also raise money by collecting garage sale items that they give to a local resale shop, which in turn gives the group a 30 percent commission.
Although many members have been coming for years, no group can last 40 years without bringing in new members, so publicity is key. For starters, the group maintains a listing in the local weekly paper. Each May, a banner promoting Stroke Awareness Month and with the group’s contact information is hung on Glendora’s main street. There is also a banner inside the senior center that alerts visitors to the weekly meetings. Brochures are placed in local rehab centers and doctors’ offices. The group also maintains a community presence by participating in health fairs and a Halloween carnival. And after so many years, there is significant word-of-mouth publicity.
Schupbach attributes the success and longevity of the Glendora After-Stroke Program to attitude. “Our members love to come because they get encouragement and don’t feel different,” Schupbach said. “Our goal is to love them and accept them. I give lots of hugs and get lots of hugs back.”
Love and acceptance are a good way to trump isolation. No doubt founder Johnson would approve.
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