Celebrating a community champion

This month, we thank and bid a fond farewell to Chris Ridley, who has enriched so many of our lives during the past 30 years.

Chris moved to the mainland to be with her children and family. Chris has served as the director of social services at Life Care Center of Hilo since 1994. While there, she implemented an award-winning fall-prevention program and in 1999 started the annual Early Signs Health Fair, where community members receive free health screenings, activities and physician-led presentations.

Chris spent most of the past 20 years as the Alzheimer’s Association program specialist for Hawaii Island, presenting and coordinating for countless public events, including the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s which raised more than $55,000 this year. You would think doing the work of two people was enough, but Chris also has been developing our youth for 30 years through AYSO as a soccer coach, referee and regional leader.

Community First has been blessed to work with Chris on our advance health care directive “grassroots” project. This initiative offers free public classes on the importance of having an AHCD. We also show you exactly how to fill one out and what to do with the form once it is complete. More than 450 community members have attended our classes, and we look forward to helping thousands more.

During the past 2 1/2 years, we have gone from a small group brainstorming in a room to hosting dozens of presentations, helping hundreds of people and partnering with numerous churches, businesses, clubs, government offices and medical providers. We work with Kokua Mau on Oahu and The Conversation Project, a national movement to discuss end-of-life health care decisions. Thanks to the years of hard work and generosity of our partners, we are now able to offer these free classes every month at the Aging and Disability Resource Center.

Chris was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. The social workers at Life Care Center of Hilo were trained to complete an AHCD with anyone who asked, whether it was a patient, caregiver or someone who walked in off the street. In fact, she often wouldn’t let someone leave her office without the AHCD form completed and signed. Her passion for helping people to complete their document continues to inspire our committee.

We will miss Chris dearly, personally and professionally. We also feel an obligation to honor the selfless work she has done. We can do that by growing our efforts and helping more members of our community to have “The Conversation” about the health care they want when they cannot speak for themselves. We have a dedicated and knowledgeable group of volunteers, but as we reach out to more people we need more hands.

We ask for your help. You don’t have to talk in front of a group (but you can if you want to). We need help signing people in, making phone calls, collating handouts and witnessing documents. You don’t need any experience, just the desire to help your neighbors take care of each other. The Blue Zones Project, a well-being initiative, has shown us that people who volunteer live longer and feel happier. What better way to stay active, live longer and help your community?

If you would like to volunteer with Community First, email Tony Kent at akent@communityfirst.co or call 675-2750. You also can visit our website, www.CommunityFirsthawaii.org, for the dates of our free AHCD workshops. The first 2018 workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, at the Aging and Disability Resource Center.

Community First’s vision is “a community where we not only take personal responsibility for our health, but help each other care for our mutual well-being.” As we reflect on our blessings this holiday season we also should look for ways to improve the lives of those close to us. Chris has been a torch bearer for all of us the past 30 years, and the work she has done for our kupuna and keiki is one of those blessings.

Please join me in celebrating and thanking her for years of selfless service. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” We need your help to continue the work Chris helped us begin. I hope some of you will join us.

On behalf of Community First’s board of directors, committee members and volunteers, I would like to wish you all a joyous holiday season.

Charlene Iboshi is director for Community First and chairwoman for the advance health care directive initiative. She previously served as the prosecuting attorney for Hawaii County.

This column was prepared by Community First, a nonprofit organization led by KTA’s Barry Taniguchi and supported by a volunteer board of local community leaders. Community First was established in 2014 to help the community respond to the health care cost crisis and support initiatives that change health care from just treating disease to caring for health. To learn more about Community First, visit www.CommunityFirsthawaii.org.