Bonner County Board of Community Guardian seeks volunteers looking to make a difference in the life of another
By Taylor Shillam
The dictionary definition of a guardian is a defender, protector, or keeper. In the case of the Bonner County Board of Community Guardian, a guardian looks after another individual who is left alone and unable to care for themselves.
A guardian plays a critical role to the wellbeing of an individual who has become incapable of caring for themselves. Members of the Board are volunteers who become court appointed as a guardian or conservator, an umbrella of protection when no other person, family member or friend is qualified or willing to manage the selected individual’s affairs.
“It is very meaningful work,” explained Tami Feyen, chairperson of the Board. “It makes such a big impact on those who we are able to serve.”
Individuals qualify for guardianship when they lack the capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions. These individuals have an immense need, as they could be subject to harm due to their inability to provide themselves with the essentials to survive—including food, health care, shelter, safety, clothing, and the effective management of financial affairs.
Established in 1993, the Bonner County Board of Community Guardian and its services have proven to be of great significance within the community.
“For the people in our community who have no family and no friends, the people who are willing to step in and support them as strangers take on their care and responsibility as if it’s their own,” Feyen shared.
Each guardian visits their ward at their designated living facility at a frequency dependent on the guardian’s schedule and the individual’s needs, typically once or twice per month.
Visits are the time designated for the guardian to provide support, guidance, and coordination with their ward’s care facility to ensure their personal, medical and emotional needs are met.
Today, there remain a great number of Bonner County individuals in need of that support.
The bylaws governing the Board require a minimum of seven Board members at one time. The Board is currently at that threshold of a minimum and is in a critical need of volunteers with a heart to serve.
“The need from our community is so much bigger now,” Feyen shared. “It’s been a challenge to find board members, as our current members are pretty saturated with responsibility.”
The board consists of seven to 11 members who undergo an application process and certification before being appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. Each board member is a volunteer with a heart for service and a commitment to the community, and serves without pay.
The Board meets monthly to review referrals from hospitals and care facilities throughout the county, assessing the provided information and medical records of the nominated individuals to determine the real need for guardianship.
Feyen emphasized that the board acts as an individual’s last resort. They step in as guardians when there is no one else willing to do so.
“I do my best to contact family members and known acquaintances to ensure the family knows about the need for guardianship and has the opportunity to step forward,” she shared.
Now at the minimum threshold of a Board member count, they are seeing requests exceed their resources. The need for volunteers is great, and the role of guardian is unlike any other.
“It’s so rewarding, taking on the role when you’re appointed to be responsible for a person’s well-being. You take on that responsibility for them,” Feyen explained. “While we’re not providing any direct care, we’re responsible for making the very best decision for their well-being in every aspect. It’s not a responsibility to be taken lightly.”
Most individuals who require guardianship have suffered from dementia, a traumatic brain injury or stroke. Their guardian steps in to ensure the best decisions are made for them throughout the remainder of their life.
“They recognize you as someone they trust, and they become more or less like family,” Feyen said. “It is significant work.”
The Board invites anyone within the community who is looking for an incredibly meaningful way to serve others to explore the idea of becoming a guardian.
The Board is fully supported by the Bonner County Commissioner, with a very small annual budget that covers a bit of advertising and community education. They have a county-appointed attorney and administrative support. As a very small, unique board, they serve individuals in Bonner County only.
Feyen has been with the Bonner County Board of Community Guardian since 2011 and became acting chair of the board shortly after. She wholeheartedly believes in the purpose behind the work they perform.
“The person who is most satisfied by this work and finds the most joy in it is someone looking for a very meaningful way to serve, in a way they may have never had the opportunity to serve before,” Feyen stated.
The Board has been of great significance in the lives of many. “We exist as a last resort for those who don’t have anyone else to support them.”
The Bonner County Board of Community Guardian is currently seeking community members with compassion and the desire to make a difference, to take the service opportunity of a lifetime. More information can be found at BonnerCountyID.gov/board-of-community-guardian.