Your Friends for Life: The gift of comfort
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Diane Welter, founder and director of Your Friends For Life, is always on call.
“The phone rings day and night,” she said. “Whenever [clients] call, I go, or send a volunteer to go.”
Your Friends for Life (YFFL) is a nonmedical cancer-support organization, headquartered in Basalt, with more than 80 volunteers from Aspen to Rifle who can deliver a meal, clean a house, walk a dog, or simply keep a patient or family member company.
“We customize to whatever our clients need,” explained Welter.
But sometimes the late-night calls are more personal.
“Someone may wake up and see that there’s more hair on their pillow than what’s on their head,” said Welter. “They panic. What are they going to do except fall apart?” Welter is there to help hold them together.
Welter, a longtime caregiver, founded YFFL five years ago when she recognized a need to help families of children with cancer in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“When kids are diagnosed, they are hospitalized for treatment,” she explained, usually at St. Jude’s or Children’s Hospital in Denver. When parents have to drive back and forth to Denver, often more than once a week, the routine of family life is derailed.
That’s when YFFL steps in with home-cooked meals, home repairs, something fun to do, or maybe just a vase of flowers to brighten up the kitchen.
Maintaining normalcy is a big deal for Welter.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your whole world stops,” she said. “Normal things in life that we take for granted become huge challenges for these families.”
In 2007, Welter’s goal was to serve 50 families between Basalt and Rifle, but YFFL overshot its mark.
“We served 72 families,” she recalled. Now, YFFL’s client base includes more than 100 families a year that are dealing with all types of cancer.
Statistics from the Colorado Central Cancer Registry show that overall Colorado cancer rates are 5 percent lower than the national average, but 15 percent higher for Colorado Hispanics. Cancer death rates are 10 to 23 percent lower in Colorado, but 33 percent higher for Colorado Hispanics and 18 percent higher for Colorado’s African-American males than for Caucasian males.
Welter, however, thinks cancer is on the rise nationwide, mainly because more people are getting diagnosed early. She credits this to public awareness.
“There are more screenings,” she explained. “It’s more socially acceptable to talk about cancer.” And more people are surviving. According to the Center for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute, cancer survivors across the country increased by almost 2 million between 2001 and 2007.
But cultural acceptance of the disease and an increased hope of survival don’t change the toll cancer takes on those who are diagnosed and on their loved ones, which is why Welter has devoted her life to softening the blow.
“To me, it doesn’t feel like I’m working,” she said. “It’s an extension of my arm.”
She and her volunteers also organize monthly gatherings from June through September for all the families.
“We try to find an activity that everyone can enjoy,” she said. Mini-golf is popular, as is the fall gondola ride to the top of Aspen Mountain.
But the work is not without challenges. Welter’s biggest challenge is getting people to accept help.
Another is funding. The organization’s annual budget is well under $60,000 and its services are free. Welter is the only salaried staff member. When ends don’t meet, she gives up her pay so her clients have what they need, and fills in the gaps with part-time jobs.
How does she cope?
“I attend a grief/loss support group, journal, and I’m getting better at handing off the phone,” she said.
Welter brings joy to her clients. She tells the story of a 3-year-old boy who wanted to go fishing with his grandfather. “But his grandfather died. So he decided he wanted to go fishing with Santa.”
Welter and a few volunteers made it happen one week before Christmas two years ago along the Fryingpan River.
“We don’t walk away from them,” explained Welter. “We’re their friends for life.”
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