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She helped establish Interfaith

Now she utilizes their services

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Apr 18, 2021

Jean Bierly was Interfaith Caregivers first director when they opened their office in Blue Earth 24 years ago. They actually got their start the previous year when they received a $20,000 grant.

It was 24 years ago this past week the office for Interfaith Caregivers opened in Blue Earth and Jean Bierly was the group’s first director.

“The day was April 16, 1997,” Bierly says. “But we say the organization really began 25 years ago, in 1996.”

Now, all these years later, Bierly is receiving aid from the group she helped start, and she looks back fondly on the people and work it took to get Interfaith off the ground.

“There were so many key figures who had a hand in getting things started,” she comments. “We were looking for some way to aid people who needed help because of a disability or age; although at some point age itself can become a disability.”

She mentions people like Joanne Goeke, a registered nurse, and the Reverend Vic Vriesen, who helped start the hospice program.

“The hospice program was kind of the impetus for starting the caregiver program,” Bierly remarks.

She also gives credit to Laura Rydholm, who was involved in faith-health nursing in southern Minnesota and Pam Determan, who had helped start VINE Faith in Action, located in Mankato.

“Pam helped us write the grant to get Interfaith’s initial funding,” Bierly explained. “We received $20,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is an organization which had studied the population and the aging of the baby boomers and saw a value to gather people of faith who could be trained to go into homes and assist people. The idea was to help people age safely in their own homes and provide needed support.”

Bierly mentions there were 35 applicants to be the first director of the newly formed Interfaith Caregivers.

“Many of the people who applied for the job came from bigger cities where they earned a nice salary,” Bierly shares. “So to come to Blue Earth and learn the grant was for 18 months and only $20,000 eliminated many of the applicants.”

Bierly had also put her name in the hat for the job, and she got it.

“I had been working at the school as a paraprofessional in the special education department,” she says. “I was told to do the best you can with what you have. Reverend Vriesen told me if we can make it five years, then we will be OK.”

It was January 1 of this year when Bierly moved into New Life Manor at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center.

“It is independent HUD housing. It is based off of income,” Bierly says. “I had actually started utilizing the services of Interfaith Caregivers earlier while I was still living in an apartment.”

Bierly explains she has had surgery on her knees and requires help with transportation and cleaning.

“Part of what Interfaith does is to help train families to care for their elderly relatives,” Bierly says. “But they also provide help and services when the young families are not able to be of assistance.”

Bierly explains further.

“A lot of the caregiver families are busy raising their own kids and going to games and concerts. Maybe they have full-time jobs and are not always able to provide help to their loved ones,” Bierly comments. “For me, Interfaith assists me with transportation when my family cannot.”

She knows COVID has made life more difficult for the organization.

“They were not able to meet in what is called their CARE teams,” Bierly remarks. “Those get-togethers are good for caregiver coaching and sharing experiences.”

The “getting together” she says is really what Interfaith has been about.

“It really was a community effort to get the group going and I believe initiatives like that help build a stronger community,” Bierly says.

Now, as a receiver of care, she is learning about Interfaith from the other side.

“As a care receiver, I am recognizing there are still things I can do,” Bierly comments. “Even something as simple as calling a person who is a shut-in can make a difference for some people.”

She is happy to still be learning as she continues her journey on this earth.

“I do not like that I can not walk like I used to. When we are young we are dependent on others, then we grow into independence, and then we grow to be dependent again,” Bierly offers. “As we grow older we go from being the helper to the one needing help. Part of the process is learning to accept help.”

She is comforted by a story she once heard.

“There is a small child who was with her mom and the child said to her mom, ‘When I grow up and you grow down I will be there to help you,'” Bierly says. “It is wonderful we have people to help us and it is also good to let people help us. I am very grateful for the aid I receive.”