Barbara Garwood was 14 years old when her vibrant 46-year-old father, Wayne Koontz, had a massive, disabling stroke that meant he would need 24-hour-a-day care for the rest of his life.
The stroke – most likely caused by an aneurism, Garwood believes — came out of the blue; there were no risk factors present.
Her older brother was off at college, and Barbara and her mother Kathryn (now Kathryn Terry) were thrust without any preparation into the role of caregivers.
“It was rough,” says Garwood, who has spent much of her career trying to improve the quality of life of both caregivers and care receivers.
Garwood recently left her job as director of Trinity Living Center, formerly Abundant Living Adult Day Services.
She is now stepping into a new position, director of community services for Lutheran Services Carolinas, the organization that manages Trinity Living Center.
Like her former job, her new position will require much interaction with caregivers.
Understandably, Garwood feels sincere empathy with the caregivers she will continue to assist in her new role.
“When I talk to caregivers, I can totally relate,” Garwood says, noting how fortunate caregivers are to have so many services that didn’t exist back in the late 1960’s when her father had his stroke.
An activities director at what was then the Lutheran Home in Hickory, where her father was eventually placed, encouraged him to paint again.
“She recognized there was a person still there,” Garwood said. “She took the time to get to know him.” She marvels now that this director was so ahead of her time in offering the kind of person-centered care that is now the standard.
Her father’s experience painting after his stroke was the motivation for Garwood to start Art for the Soul, which brings in to Trinity Living Center local artists from painters to potters to work with program participants.
It’s a program close to her heart, and plans are in place for it to continue after she leaves.
“The end product is not important,” Garwood said. “It’s the process. Participants may not remember (what they did creatively) at the end of the day, but their mood will reflect it at the end of the day.”
If her youth gave her a crash course in the relentless stresses of caregiving, it also gave her a fondness for older folks.
As a young girl, Garwood took every chance she got to stay with her grandmother Pearl Wagoner. Garwood would sleep in a rollaway bed in her grandmother’s room, where they’d “talk and talk” until finally her grandmother would tell her they had to go to sleep.
Mama Wagoner — who lived to be 103 – was the kind of grandmother who’d put food coloring in a little girl’s milk so she’d drink it. She was the kind of grandmother who’d let her little Barbara take that rollaway bed and drag it down the hallway with a rope like a horse.
Garwood also has fond memories of her grandfather Fred Koontz, who used to drive the trolley that went through Fulton Heights, and later, a city bus. Barbara would help him grade tomatoes, some of which would be sold to Pope and Arey, a neighborhood grocery store. They’d also go fishing together.
“We were very close,” Garwood says.
Garwood began as director of Abundant Living Adult Day Services in May 2004 when it operated out of two small church parsonages. She was instrumental in the program’s move to its current site on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Garwood “jumped in and was key to the fundraising and development effort” for the new facility, which is “as good as you’ll find in the state,” says Lutheran Services Carolinas President Ted Goins.
“Moving allowed us to enroll people we couldn’t take before,” Garwood said. “If someone had a tendency to wander, we couldn’t take them. We couldn’t bathe people, there was no beauty shop, no outdoor space that was secure and safe.”
For Garwood, adult day services aren’t about simply giving respite to caregivers. Keeping participants creative and energized is just as important.
“Their day here is an opportunity for us to help them create moments of joy,” she said.
Meta Fisher, program director at Trinity Living Center, says Garwood is a strong leader and “very caring about the work we do.”
“There is not anything that Barbara will not tackle,” she added.
Goins agrees. When it comes to following through on things she’s passionate about, she’s tenacious, he says, adding, “She’ll always tell you the truth.”
Nurse Ann Rouzer says she knew from the very first conversation she had with Garwood what a “genuine, caring, concerned and determined person” she was.
She also has an uncanny knack for saying the right thing at the right time, Rouzer said.
“She’s a great source of information for caregivers and participants and has wonderful, imaginative ideas,” she said. “She gets excited about things, and that comes across.”
Margaret Kurfees got to know Garwood as compassionate support when her husband, Jack, was a participant in the program.
“Barbara was there in a transition when no one else knew what to do,” she said.
At Trinity Living Center, Jack was treated as an individual and a special person, Kurfees said.
While she’s serious about her work, Garwood also knows how to have fun.
“A day doesn’t pass that we aren’t belly laughing at something,” Rouzer says.
Garwood was notorious for her Halloween costumes, Fisher says, including Swine Flu (complete with pig nose).
Garwood’s new position as director of community services for Lutheran Services Carolinas is funded in part through a grant from the Michael Peeler Fund and the Virginia Casey Fund that came out of the Lutheran Synod.
The grant will help provide care management services on a sliding fee basis, with the ultimate goal of helping people “age in place” – which means staying in their own homes as long as possible.
“Aging in place” is definitely a trend, Garwood says. “I think everyone is preparing for the baby boomers, who like to have it their own way. We always have.”
As a care manager, Garwood will go into homes and make assessments that will help determine what barriers might exist to a person remaining at home, and how they might be overcome, including issues related to safety, transportation and finances.
Services provided will also include support for family members and caregivers. Garwood will also establish contracts with care managers in other parts of the state, making them aware of the services and grant money available.
Garwood is married to her high school sweetheart, David. They met at Knox Junior High School and began dating when she was 15.
David jumped right in during that difficult time after Garwood’s father had his stroke, helping around the house and mowing the lawn. They have two sons: Josh, 29, who lives in Charleston and is a software engineer; and Daniel, who has almost completed his studies at Appalachian State University to teach Spanish in elementary schools.
When she’s not helping older folks, Garwood is trying to improve the lives of animals.
Her passion outside of work is helping the staff at the Rowan County Animal Shelter re-home dogs.
She often goes out and plays with the dogs “to let them know somebody still loves them,” and sometimes sponsors animal adoptions.
At home, she loves her own dogs, cocker spaniels Sammy and Bo. She likes to read and is an accomplished artist.
Garwood is looking forward to the challenges of her new job but says she’ll miss being surrounded by dozens of people every day who are her “other family.”
And while she’s hesitant to share any funny stories from her days there – she doesn’t want to embarrass anyone – she will admit that there was never a dull moment.
There were, however, many joyful ones – for both Garwood and those she served.
Garwood has passed the baton – or more realistically, the file folders – to Christina Joyce, who is replacing her as executive director of Trinity Living Center.
“I have all confidence that Christina will do a great job,” Garwood says.
To learn more about community services offered by LSC, contact Garwood at 704-603-1686.
Katie Scarvey is a communications specialist at Lutheran Services Carolinas.
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