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Helping Chronically Ill People Made Simple

Simple is better, many people say. Sarah LaFave certainly took a simple idea and transformed it into something that makes life better for lots of folks. She connects energetic college students with people who are chronically ill and need help with everyday chores.

Discussion: Where do you go to get some extra help?

Sarah LaFave, right, and a Lori's Hands volunteer help decorate a client's home for the holidays.

Genius, huh? LaFave launched her program, Lori's Hands, while a nursing student at the University of Delaware in Newark in 2009. "There's no trick to it, nothing complicated about it. It's such a natural fit," LaFave says. "In two hours' time you can make somebody's life so much better."

Lori was the name of LaFave's mother. She died in 2003 after a long battle with breast cancer. In high school at the time, LaFave learned firsthand the effects an illness can have on a family: The chronically ill and their caregivers could use a hand with yard work, grocery shopping, housecleaning and more.

So Lori's Hands was born. The program serves 15 clients at a time - a total of about 40 so far. Ninety volunteers come from sororities and fraternities as well as students in a university service learning course. "It's important to me that the people served get great service," says LaFave.

In addition to appreciating the help from young people, LaFave says, "Just having a friendly visit makes a difference. Students become like family to them." Some volunteers even become patient advocates for their older counterparts.

The program's success has been noticed. Lori's Hands received the Jefferson Award, which recognizes community and public service, for its work in elder care. LaFave herself received the award in 2011.

LaFave says her mom would be excited to see an organization named in her honor bringing so many people together to serve others. "She quietly made life better for people."

Photo: Courtesy of Doug Baker


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