Everyday is a good day

Janice Chaim runs the kitchen and organizes daily van transportation at Melabev’s only English-speaking daycare center for people with dementia.

Janice Chaim (photo credit: Courtesy)
Janice Chaim
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every morning when Janice Chaim gets up to go to work, she looks forward to the day ahead. As a staff member at Melabev, she knows she is helping to make a qualitative difference in people’s lives, and that is very gratifying for her.
A leader in the field of dementia care, Melabev operates nine clubs or adult daycare centers, and also offers home care, in the Jerusalem area and Beit Shemesh.
Since 2009, Chaim has been working at the relatively new center at 152 Bethlehem Road, which is Melabev’s only English-language club in the city. Her tasks are many and varied. She is in charge of running the kitchen and organizing the daily van transportation of the clientele and she serves as an extra pair of hands in whatever capacity is required to help the club members and their activity leaders.
She also contributes an extra pair of feet. Above and beyond the call of duty, she is looking forward to taking part once again in Melabev’s annual fund-raising Walkathon, which takes place this year from November 27 to 29.
“Every person is a world unto himself – a whole world that many of them can’t remember – and we help them remember. It is a privilege to work with them and to ensure that they have a fun and fulfilling day at the center,” says 63-year-old Chaim, who is a wife, mother of four and grandmother of two.
Chaim points out that there are different stages of dementia, which are often erroneously bundled together under the term “Alzheimer’s disease.” But the stages can range from forgetting a name or where one placed an object to not knowing one’s address or recognizing family members. At the most severe stage, people lose their psychomotor skills and cannot remember how to walk or eat or go to the bathroom on their own.
And Melabev caters to them all. Open six days a week, the clubs offer a wide range of activities such as games, puzzles, computers, gardening, cooking, baking, dancing, singing and discussions.
Chaim explains that, depending on their capacities, the members are placed in one of three groups – the memory group, the activity group or the challenge group. Each group is led by a facilitator, and the members participate in group-appropriate activities. The center on Bethlehem Road has 10 regular staff members in addition to therapists, girls doing their national service and a good number of volunteers.
“Every day is different,” says Chaim as she tries to describe her typical day at work. Five days a week, she ensures that the seven vans pick up the members and bring them to the center and then take them home in the afternoon. Not all members get there by van, she explains, but she oversees the transportation of those that do.
There are about 55 members a day at the center, she says, most of whom are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. The center provides them with breakfast and lunch. Chaim’s managerial duties in the kitchen include supervising the preparation of breakfast, ordering the catered lunches and other supplies and making sure that the whole prep and service operation runs smoothly.
In addition to that and other clerical tasks, Chaim helps out in the various groups whenever needed. Be it dancing with the members, singing along, listening to someone talk about his or her past or giving a person a hug, she is there to render them the warmth and respect they have earned.
Not only is Chaim’s background well suited to the job, but her calm, easy-going nature is also well adapted to the clientele.
Chaim made aliya from her native Montreal in 1976. She has a degree in early childhood education and worked as a teacher in Montreal. In Israel, she widened her scope. At various times in her career she worked in the Aliya Department of the Jewish Agency, ran a child-care facility in her home and managed two Internet cafes, as well as some real estate endeavors.
But of them all, “This is one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done,” she says. “We accompany people in the final chapters of their lives and give them closure. As one grows older, there is what is called a ‘shrinking of interests.’ We try to open their world from whatever point they’re at,” she says.
“We do our best to see that each one of our members has a good day,” she stresses. Catering to people who may once have been successful entrepreneurs, scientists or academics, she says “there is a lot they know, and [now] a lot they don’t know. Our task is to treat them with respect and make every day as enjoyable as possible for them – and their families.”
And that makes her happy as well. “I’m glad that I’m in a job where I am active and I like what I do. And every day just flies by,” she asserts. “We improve our members’ quality of life and that of their families. The people go home happy, and that makes a big difference.”
In fact, Chaim believes that the work that is done at Melabev is hessed emet (true lovingkindness). As a final thought, she refers to the prayer “Al tashlicheini le’eit zikna!” (do not abandon me in my old age). For the clientele of Melabev, the work that Chaim and her colleagues do may well be an answer to their prayers.