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Bridge Builders celebrates fifth anniversary, increased membership

Things don't always turn out the way they are expected.

Sometimes life takes an unexpected twist and a person has to start back at square one, or perhaps one step forward leads to two steps back. But every once in awhile, things turn out better than ever could be imagined. That is the case for Mindi Blanchard, founder and president of Bridge Builders, Ltd.

Bridge Builders offers 24-hour individualized service to improve quality of life for clients by meeting day-to-day and long-term needs such as bill paying, personal shopping, transportation to and from doctor appointments and daily check-in calls just to make sure everything is OK. The business is celebrating its fifth anniversary and has increased from 90 clients in 2005 to 158 clients in 2008.

"You always start a business with grandiose ideals and then what you think is going to work doesn't always work," Blanchard said. "We have morphed a lot since the beginning because our ultimate goal is and has always been to find out what people need and offer them that."

Blanchard and her associates are not caregivers. "We prefer the title 'professional daughters,'" she said, as one man coined them. "Bridge Builders offers support services that people can use and still pay less than they would be paying at an assisted-living center. We specialize in crisis management. We are able to respond quickly and then use the community's resources long term. Our clients can call any time of day or night if they need anything and that alone improves their quality of life."

Bridge Builders isn't just for seniors. Services extend to all ages, the youngest client on the books being 4 years old and the oldest 102. Though in Sequim the majority of clients are in their 80s and 90s, Blanchard said.

Living at home is an important issue to seniors, according to Blanchard.

"Our society is one of independence and the thought of giving that up is devastating to many," she said. "Just about every person you talk to will say, 'I want to stay in my own home until I take my last breath,' some more adamantly than others."

If a client reaches the point where it's no longer healthy or safe for them to live independently, Bridge Builders employees discuss the person's options with them. "We try to dispel the mindset of the old-fashioned warehouse nursing homes," Blanchard said. "We offer tours and take them to lunch to see different facilities before they make a decision."

For some clients, Bridge Builders is the closest thing to "family" they have, Blanchard added. "But they can't push our buttons like real family can," she said with a smile.

Bridge Builders advocates for its clients.

"It's important to have somebody advocate for you when you get ill and are trying to navigate the health care system," Blanchard said. "You could not be well enough to do it yourself or maybe not understand what your rights are. I don't care how old you are, when you are in the middle of a crisis, you need help to get through it and get the optimal care. And that's what we do best."



Glancing into the future

Bridge Builders is taking a more educational stance as it enters its sixth year in business.

"I'm trying to do more informational things to educate family members dealing with difficult parents and learning more effective ways of getting what they need done but making it seem like the parents' idea," Blanchard explained. "I call it 'benevolent manipulation.'"

Blanchard is teaching an enhanced caregiving training class offered through Peninsula College March 11-18. The class is funded by a grant from MetLife and is free to attendees. Those who successfully complete the course receive state certification. Topics include understanding the client care plan, improving communication skills and working with challenging clients, taught over a 22-hour, three-day schedule. For more information or to register, call Genaveve Starr at 417-6259 or e-mail genaveves@pcadmin.ctc.edu.

"Watching a parent grow older and lose the ability to do things for his or her self is one of the most difficult things a child can face," Blanchard acknowledged. "It's an emotionally tough situation for people because you grow up looking toward your parents for what to do and then the tables turn and you are taking care them all of a sudden."

As Blanchard looks down the road, her goal is to expand the business. "I want to continue to grow," she said. "I think there is a lot of potential (for this business in this area). I want to get the word out and help people understand that if they invest the time to set things up now it will save a heck of a lot of money later."

The Peace of Mind program, which allows people to make plans for when disaster strikes, is one that Blanchard encourages younger and older generations alike to consider.

"If something happens to you, will your mother who you take care of go to a nursing home?" Blanchard asked. "Or if you get ill, will your husband be alone and have nobody to give him his medication? Who will feed and walk the dog? These are things that are very important and you can plan for now to make it easier later."

Though there are sure to be ups and downs along the way, Blanchard said she is committed to Bridge Builders and to

Sequim. "It's tough growing a new business but I wouldn't want to do anything else. This is what I am passionate about."

Blanchard's empathetic attitude stems from her own experience of caring for her husband with multiple sclerosis for multiple years before he died.

"I've been there and done that and I know the realities from both sides," she said. "I have a history and experiences to draw from that the average person doesn't."

"You can't understand what people are going through from going to school or reading a book," she continued. "You have to live it. And I have."



Bridge Builders, Ltd. offers a

wide variety of services, including:



• Advocacy and mediation

• Daily reminders and check-in calls

• Bill paying and financial organizing

• Transportation to appointments

• Monthly checkbook reconciliation

• Personal shopping

• Letter writing

• Telephone and computer assistance

• Meal delivery

• "Peace of Mind;" storing important documents and contacting family and friends to ensure care for beloved pets, children or other dependents in case of emergency

• Assistance and company to community outings

• Pet transportation to grooming and veterinary appointments



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