“Education, preparation and self-reflection” are the three principles that Tracy Sprauer says have helped guide her work as an educator, parent, nonprofit board member — and now executive director of Methow At Home, an organization which focuses on providing support for seniors who are living independently.
Sprauer started her new job during a pandemic; a coincidence that might seem unfortunate, but one that she is uniquely qualified and comfortable in handling.
“I’m always trying to figure out how to set people up for success,” said Sprauer, who is already building new programs to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19. “I have a great team and we’re all working hard to get systems in to place to help people. We are working on a buddy system … and setting up a phone tree system to keep people in the loop. Trying to help people have information, without creating a sense of panic for our members. We are having people checking in more regularly; it’s been a lot of communication.”
Support in getting groceries and cooking meals, getting to medical appointments, and continuing to build community and maintain companionship, are all services that Methow At Home provides for its members, who pay based on household size. Grants are also available.
Aging creates a unique set of needs, particularly for those aging at home, needs that Methow At Home’s community of around 200 seniors is striving to meet with the support of 180 volunteers, community and organizational benefactors, and collaboration with other valley organizations.
Power of community
“I believe in the power of community, and I have always tried to be of service,” said Sprauer, who moved to the Methow Valley 20 years ago with her husband and 3-month-old daughter. The couple bought a 400-square-foot house in Lost River where they had an outdoor kitchen and were growing their own food.
“We were basically deluxe camping,” said Sprauer. The couple had a second child, a boy. “I would only use cloth diapers, so I would end up having to go down twice a week to the pioneer laundry to do all the diapers,” Sprauer recalled.
Then in 2007 their lives abruptly changed when Sprauer’s husband, Joe Sprauer, had kidney failure. He began having to take trips to Seattle for dialysis while Sprauer stayed home taking care of the house and their two children. They needed support, and the community stepped in to help. First, a friend offered to let them stay at their home while the couple worked on building a new, more domesticated house. And then a neighbor donated a kidney to Joe.
“The whole community came together, and helped us in every way,” said Sprauer, who, inspired by the support her family received has, “has constantly [been] looking for ways to give back.”
Now, at Methow At Home, Sprauer has been focusing on building community collaboration between other valley nonprofits, as well as building and running new programs such as the free, bi-monthly workshops on advanced care planning, slated to start in mid-April. Sprauer sees a connection between community support and advanced care planning, having dealt with end-of-life choices in a variety of different situations. Her grandparents both passed away in their homes with the support of Sprauer and her family, but she noted, “An organization like Methow At Home would have been really helpful.”
Learning the landscape
When Sprauer was in her early 20s, she traveled to New Zealand and stayed in a Maori village on one of the northern islands. During her time on the island, a young man died after battling a degenerative heart disease. Sprauer was present for the Maori funeral, and was moved by “all of the community wheels that went into motion for carrying for this young man’s family through the entire process.”
“It just really struck me,” said Sprauer about witnessing the traditional Maori process of dealing with death — moving her to realize that planning for death is “not always for ourselves, but to help our loved ones get through that time.”
Sprauer is also working on creating a Med Mate program, a program in which volunteers will accompany Methow At Home members to medical appointments and help by taking notes, asking questions and following up with members about medical treatment.
“I’m learning so much about this landscape, what is and is not available to our elderly. It’s been interesting to get the chance to see the scope of this organization,” said Sprauer. “I’m asking, how can I be of service, and what is my scope?”