TOM BERRY (M), one of the numerous recipients of the caregiving services of the Great River Area Faith In Action (GRAFIA) organization is now a volunteer for the Living Well at Home program that aims to keep the elderly in their homes and communities as opposed to an assisted living home. Pictured above with Berry are caseworkers Heather VanCleave (L) and Lori Lestina who are holding up a few of the silent auction items to be sold at next week’s gala. (Photo by Bill Morgan).

FIA Valetine's gala to benefit the elderly

Contributing Writer
Bill Morgan
The Great River Area Faith in Action organization (GRAFIA) will be holding their seventh annual Valentine’s gala at River City Extreme in Monticello next Thursday, Feb. 13.
This year’s Valentine’s theme is: “Love is...Action.”
The event will feature a reception and silent auction at 5:30 p.m., a delicious, catered meal at 6 p.m. and a program that starts at 7 p.m.
It’s fancy with the invitation stating the event is “top hat and sequins optional”.
The reason for the event this year is to benefit GRAFIA’s “Living Well at Home” program that helps older adults and their caregivers to remain in their community and their homes through a combined effort of GRAFIA’s professional and volunteer services.
“Basically, it’s giving people the opportunity to stay in their homes, rather than go to an assisted living space,” says Living Well at Home Coach Lori Lestina. “We want to create a bridge from people who are in need to people who are willing to help.”
Lestina says the GRAFIA has a team of eight caseworkers who work with a plethora of volunteers, assisting in many ways of every manner of caregiving.
“It’s a great way for people in the community to give back and help others,” Lestina said. “If we don’t have someone on hand at the time or don’t know the answer to a need, we know how to connect people and solve most issues.”
One of those extraordinary volunteers for the program is resident Tom Berry, who for years worked as a caregiver for his wife, Maureen, before she eventually had to be moved to a nursing home due to behavioral issues associated with her dementia. Berry utilized the services of GRAFIA after he received a referral from a neighbor who had also linked up with the Living Well at Home program and their staff.
“I’m a retired maintenance man and basically I make things run,” said Berry of his skills and services. “I support this program because they supported me when I was in need. It just makes sense to want to give back.”
Many other area families and individuals have benefitted from the Living Well at Home program and the caseworkers are sometimes working with as many as 40-50 clients at a time. Last year, over 1,000 families and elders have utilized the family support services provided by GRAFIA.
Through the Living Well at Home program, GRAFIA has eldercare coaches working with older adults to empower them to make their own decisions. Theses decisions could involve purchasing help to remain living at home or trying new strategies to deal with personal risk factors that could lead to a permanent move from a home.
The program also has caregiver coaches who provide encouragement for instrumental, informational, affirmational and emotional supports  — strengthening an individual’s ability to cope with many types of stressful situations.
GRAFIA also facilitates caregiver support groups including memory loss support, general caregiver support, Parkinson’s support and grief support. Some of their professional services include coaching, navigator services, care management, family meetings and family memory care. They also provide support for volunteer respite.
GRAFIA looks to empower people through compassionate and caring support and to educate them through individual and personal education, multiple community-based classes and evidence-based workshops. Their nine monthly support groups meet in Monticello, Elk River, Big Lake, Becker and Rogers.
GRAFIA is still looking for more silent auction items for the event next week as well as sponsors of some of the tables. The gala costs $50 and an RSVP is appreciated. Tickets can be purchased online at the GRAFIA website ( or people can visit the GREAT Room in Elk River or their offices in Becker for more information.


George I. Florek

BIG LAKE HOPES TO BECOME A BEYOND THE YELLOW RIBBON COMMUNITY and a kick-off meeting was held Monday at The Friendly Buffalo. Pictured above are First Sergeant Brigham Fanning, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, Mayor Raeanne Danielowski and Director of Military Outreach Annette Kuyper. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

Above, the five Hornets defending their end of the court are Sam Jochum, Brady Vogt, Kyle Knaeble, Collin Teigen and Trent Monson.

Well over 100 kids waited their turn in line to go through basketball drills during the Blowout last Friday.

BIG LAKE HORNETS CHAMPION SWIMMERS are diver Mallary Dick, who came home with seventh place, and swimmers Laurel Pietrzak, Laurin Ebert, Maggie Knier and Gabbie Werner. (Submitted photo).