Fishers Mom, CICOA Volunteer Spearheads Memory Café at Conner Prairie

POSTED: September 13, 2018

Jean Ross is the kind of person who jumps out of bed each morning ready to change the world. When she sees a problem, she looks for solutions. Even though Ross is a nurse, owns her own business, and is the mother of three boys, 10, 8 and 5, she wanted to do something to help seniors. 

It all began after reading a study that showed Indiana didn’t rank very high in taking care of its seniors, so she signed up to become a volunteer at CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions to see if she could help. She’s not only helping, she’s making a difference.

“With Jean’s involvement, our communities are literally improving before our eyes, and I don’t take her role in that for granted for one second,” said CICOA’s director of community programs Dustin Ziegler.

While Ross has been a CICOA volunteer less than a year, she spearheaded efforts to start a Memory Café at Conner Prairie. It’s part of a partnership between the museum and CICOA-led Dementia Friends Indiana, which is working to break down stigmas and make it easier for those with dementia to engage in the community. Ross has helped train Conner Prairie staff about dementia, and the museum will have maps and more signage to highlight areas with resting benches and quiet spots. And, thanks to Ross’ idea, it opened Memory Café this summer.

Memory Café is a series of 90-minute programs offering people with dementia and their loved ones a safe place to get out and get engaged. This summer, about two dozen people with dementia and their loved ones explored 19th Century Artifacts. Guests for the Oct. 15 Memory Café will make cornbread, churn butter and dip beeswax candles.

“It’s a place where you know it’s safe. It brings people together once a month where they can hang out, be yourself and have a fun activity and connect with other people,” Ross said. “The museum is so cool to do this, there are a thousand different programs we can do, storytellers, World War II, music programs. The sky is the limit.”

As a nurse and owner of Kaybee where she helps loved ones navigate care for aging family members, Ross has seen first-hand the challenges associated with dementia. Too often people with dementia become isolated, because of fear of how they may be treated or misunderstood when they are in public. As a volunteer for CICOA and its Dementia Friends Indiana movement, Ross wants to look for more opportunities to make people more aware of how to respond, treat and engage with people who have dementia.

To congratulate and honor her for her efforts, CICOA recently awarded Ross with its annual Spirit Award, which recognizes the contributions of a volunteer who has made a long-term commitment to the mission of CICOA and the people it serves.

“The first thing I think of when I think of Jean is that she has been my right hand-person from the beginning,” Ziegler said. “This is so significant because we’re not talking about a paid colleague or a partner with a vested interest. We’re talking about a passionate volunteer who jumps out of bed each morning to change the world in a positive way and has found her path to that with the Dementia Friends Indiana movement.”

Ross said her goal is to give back and utilize her nursing background and perspectives to help make an impact in the community. In addition to volunteering for CICOA, Ross also is a volunteer advocate with The Center for At Risk Elders, is board chairwoman for Indiana Community Health Worker Association and vice president of Indiana Nurses Foundation. 


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