CommunityHeroes Among Us


Volunteers and Best Friends go hand in hand

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Posted at 2:03 PM, Jul 03, 2024

JESSAMINE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Every weekday in Jessamine County, there’s a party! At a place called Best Friends, a unique program to help a special group in our community.

“It uses a person-centered approach where we become best friends with our friends who have been diagnosed with a memory impairment. Some of them have dementia, Alzheimer’s, and others have other memory impairments”, says program director Yelena Babchanik. “We don’t focus on what they’ve lost. We focus on who they were before the dementia, who they are as a person, their accomplishments, where they worked, what they have done in their life. We focus on them as a person and celebrate them.”

Cynthia Frye is a participant in the program. “I’m a retired teacher. I taught kindergarten and first grade. I needed something else to do”, she says. “It’s always like coming home. It’s just perfect. When you come in, everybody knows who you are.”

The heroes of this story are the volunteers. In all, there are more than 90 of them, who dedicate their time to make this time special.

“They are paired up with a friend, and they’ll build a relationship with them based on their life story, and that’s their best friend for the day. We wouldn’t be here without our volunteers”, says Yelena.

“My mother was a volunteer here”, adds Lynn Brewer, who has been volunteering for the past year. “She was here at the beginning of the program and volunteered for about 20 years. She started because my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and my mother wanted to give back. And then unfortunately my mother got Alzheimer's as well.

“This is the best part of my week, honestly. It’s gratifying to help them make connections with other participants as well because you’ll see two participants talking to each other and making friends and you know that if they were home by themselves, they would just be staring off at the TV.”

Tony Williams comes in and participates about twice a week.

“They’re nice people. They’re understanding of whatever problem you may or may not have. They take good care of you here”, he says.

This weekend, Best Friends celebrated their 40th anniversary, honoring perhaps their biggest hero of all. Virginia Bell started the program and ran it until she passed away a year ago.

Her spirit and legacy live on here, every day, among friends.

“They all come here to have fun enjoy their day and their families can get a break and have so much fun,” says Yelena. “It just makes us feel so good that we can make a difference in their lives and that they can go home happy as well as their families can get a break and know that their loved one is being cared for and they’re safe and they’re enjoying their time and they’re going home with a big smile.”

Best Friends is always in need of volunteers. For more information, you can go to their page on Facebook.