Jack Ryan sits with four others at a circular table, shuffling a deck of cards. He starts to deal, cracking sarcastic remarks to each of the players, who laugh as the cards fly off his hands.
"We like to kid each other a little bit," said Ryan, an 81-year-old from Elk Grove Village. "I'm a troublemaker, in other words."
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Socialization is one of the primary goals of A Caring Place. For seniors like Ryan, it's the ideal environment to get out of the house and enjoy the company of others, all while his wife, Olive, gets a break from tending to his needs.
Hosted at Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Elk Grove Village, A Caring Place is a three-day-a-week day center with caregivers in mind. Knowing their loved ones are well cared for and having fun, caregivers can take some private time to handle their own responsibilities.
"It's a need that identifies with people who give care to others," said Jane Sloger, a community health nurse with the Village of Elk Grove who works with A Caring Place as part of her job.
The idea for A Caring Place was conceived in 2007 when the church's pastor, the Rev. Stefan Potuznik, was approached by some of his congregation to investigate a program for caregivers.
He looked into Elk Grove Village's 65-and-older residents, who made up 15 percent of the village's population at the time of the 2010 census.
"The aging population in Elk Grove Village was growing," Potuznik said. "My vision was to have a program to help people who are taking care of loved ones at home."
In 2009, Potuznik pitched the idea to local agencies including Alexian Brothers Medical Center, which provided a $5,000 grant to start a one-day-a-week program. Later that same year, A Caring Place hired co-coordinators Barb Walker and Marge Hart, paid professionals with experience in elderly care.
In 2011, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans gave Christus Lutheran a $10,000 grant to be distributed over three years. The grant allowed the program to expand to three days a week in the fall of 2013.
A Caring Place is open 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each person pays $20 per day and brings a sack lunch. About 15-18 people attend regularly, but Potuznik said the program could accommodate 20-30 people.
Participants don't have to live in Elk Grove Village, Potuznik added, but they have to be able to use the bathroom independently. Nor can the program handle people with advanced Alzheimer's.
Jack Ryan's wife and caregiver, Olive, appreciates being able to take a break.
"Basically, the program gives me time to myself so I have a chance to rest," Olive Ryan said. "Jack has always liked it, and they take good care of him there."
Co-coordinator Marge Hart said the program's most rewarding characteristic is keeping seniors busy and engaged. Volunteers and participants get involved with a variety of activities that range from Wii Bowling and card games to art therapy and laughter yoga.
"A lot of them are sitting at home and falling asleep," Hart said. "This is a place where people really care about one another. There's camaraderie."
But what's just as important to Hart is what the program fulfills.
"The fact that people can come here and stay for the day and the caregiver is free to go is a good thing," Hart said.
Also, "volunteers leave here feeling they've done something for the community."