Jane Latini, executive director of Interfaith Caregivers of Greater Mercer County, has a solemn recollection of the moment she realized that her organization’s work and its volunteers could make the difference between life and death for those in need.

“I got a call from a social worker about a woman, Gloria, who lived in an area where we didn’t have any volunteers or group leaders. I could have said ’sorry, we don’t have anyone out there,’” she said.

Jane Latini, executive director of Interfaith Caregivers of Greater Mercer County.
But Interfaith Caregivers, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that helps meet the concerns and special needs of the homebound elderly and people with disabilities in Mercer County, NJ, has a policy: Never say no.

“We are the safety net for many, many people. So I decided to go out and do this myself,” Latini recalled.

Latini and her organization’s network of 300 volunteers are ready to be dispatched at any moment, but a recent $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation provided unrestricted support to ensure that gaps in Interfaith Caregiver’s services are few and far between.

As it turned out in Gloria’s case, a life was saved. When she arrived at Gloria’s house, Latini was greeted by “this tall, thin, frail woman” who had just finished eating the hamburger her son bought her earlier that week.

She had cut it into quarters to make sure the meal would last several days. Latini recalled how the only thing Gloria had left was her faith:

“When I arrived, she told me that she had been sitting there, saying her prayers. She told me: ‘Look, you walked in.’”

“I went to her refrigerator and there was a half glass of cold water, so I went shopping, made her a sandwich and we sat and just talked,” Latini said. “But I can’t begin to tell you how much Gloria changed me. It reminded me that, in the volunteer world, there is a sacred relationship between the giver and the receiver.”

Since then, Gloria has built a relationship with a new caregiver, Coleen Mejas, a nutritionist who visits Gloria regularly, bringing her to family outings and treating her with the dignity and respect everyone deserves. In December, Mejas brought her two sons and Gloria to see The Nutcracker.

As ICGMC celebrates its 20thanniversary in 2014, it looks back on a year of record-breaking demand and service levels. In 2013, ICGMC had a 21-percent increase in people served (386), a 92-percent increase in new care receivers (196), and a 27-percent increase in service hours (15,015) from 2012 to 2013.

But for Latini, those numbers, while a measure of overall success, are second to the individual impact her organization makes.

“To me, I know that Gloria’s alive and it’s amazing the difference a volunteer can make,” Latini said. “There’s a life saved and she’s so happy now.”

 For more information about Interfaith Caregivers of Greater Mercer County, go to www.icgmc.org.