Lenbrook Chaplain Honored by LeadingAge Georgia for Dedication and Service

May 4, 2015

Robbye Jarrell (right), Lenbrook Chaplain, Receives Award From Walter Coffey, Pres. & CEO of LeadingAge Georgia.

            Lenbrook Chaplain Robbye Jarrell was recently recognized for her outstanding contributions to LeadingAge Georgia, the statewide association for not-for-profit and other mission-driven organizations dedicated to serving Georgia's seniors. As a long-time active volunteer, Robbye received the Allison Cuba Champion Award from LeadingAge Georgia for 2013 and co-chaired the organization's annual fundraising event in 2014.

            Here's more about Robbye and her service at Lenbrook: 

            Chaplains travel many life journeys through their work with others. For Reverend Robbye Jarrell, her journey began 17 years ago in the oncology unit and emergency department of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta where she served children and their families for nearly 10 years.

            Then, something shifted. "God had placed my heart in elder care before he got my feet here at Lenbrook," Robbye explains. "I have lived the journey of an adult child taking care of a parent."

            Robbye is referring to her mother, Martha Mitchell Jarrell, a remarkable woman who worked oversees for the Red Cross before marrying and having five children in four years, which included two sets of twins. "When Mother was in her late 70s, she fell and broke her leg. By her 80s, she needed more help. It was time to 'circle the wagons,' so my twin sister and I relocated to Atlanta to be with her," she said.

            "It's not accidental or incidental where we are in life," Robbye explained as she talked about starting the full-time chaplaincy program at Lenbrook in 2008. "I'd been invited to Lenbrook to offer advice on structuring their new chaplaincy program. A month later they offered me the position."

Listening and Lingering While Juggling Multiple Roles

            Robbye carries a lot of responsibility when she enters Lenbrook's bustling community of 500 residents and 275 associates each morning. But this tall, spirited woman embraces her chaplaincy with zest every day.

            No matter how busy her schedule is, Robbye believes one of her most important duties is to listen and linger. "You can't rush being present for someone if you expect to build relationships," she says. “Listening and lingering are fundamentals for every chaplain.”

          Unlike a pastor assigned to a single-faith organization or specific church denomination, a chaplain ministers to people of all faiths throughout the year. This requires being a coach and a counselor, and being a master planner who plans and facilitates multiple observances, services and traditions at Lenbrook: arranging for Shabbat on Fridays once a month, delivering sermons on Sundays, supporting Tuesday Vespers, assisting with Ash Wednesdays and more.

Lenbrook Chaplain Robbye Jarrell offers a blessing at ribbon cutting for new Lenbrook bus.

            Lenbrook residents know they can count on Robbye to listen. "When I first came to Lenbrook, I was unpacking boxes in my office when the phone rang. A resident asked me to come up to his apartment so he could introduce himself to the 'new chaplain.' As I sat by his armchair, I found myself mesmerized by his life story. At the end of our visit, he looked at me and said, 'I called you to come and see me because I wanted someone else to know, that at age 97, I have just decided that I will not get married again.'  It is in these listening moments you get to know a person.”

It Takes a Community

            Robbye is quick to point out that spiritual care and growth at Lenbrook "is not all about me. Enriching our community is a tag-team effort among our staff and residents," she said. Lenbrook's team follows an interdisciplinary approach to whole-person wellness and encourages physical and spiritual fitness as well social connectedness and vocational pursuits.

            Residents also actively support neighbors whenever needed and recently started a Stephen's Ministry program, where residents volunteer to take 45 hours of Stephen Ministry training to master active listening. Upon completion, these newly minted Stephen Ministers are assigned a “care-receiver.”

            “Care-receivers are residents who have asked for a Stephen Minister to journey with them through a particularly difficult time in their life. We take being a community here very seriously," said Robbye.

Senior Years Don't Necessarily Mean Simpler Years

            "Sometimes there's an idyllic view that as you enter your senior years your life gets simpler," Robbye said.

            "But more often it's a time of continual change -- such as moving from your long-time family home or dealing with changing health conditions of yourself and your spouse, or changing life circumstances among your adult children," she outlined.

            That's when a listening ear, wise counsel and pastoral care are needed most. "Relationships pull us forward in life --  and give us fresh reasons to choose life," Robbye said.

Resting by the River Bank

            "Robbye's capacity to give to others is infinite," says Lisa Kiely, Director of Enrichment for Lenbrook. "She moves fluidly across our campus, helping staff, associates and residents," Lisa said, noting how Robbye headed up a special meditation room for associates to eat and rest while working virtually around the clock during Atlanta's infamous ‘snowjam’ in 2014.

            Where does Robbye get her unending reservoir of compassion and energy? Her secret is taking time to rest at the river bank.

            She takes this lesson from the Native Americans. As the story goes, when Native Americans would travel, they would always rest for two or three days at a river bank before crossing the water. They knew the value of resting before starting to  venture into new territory. "If asked what they were doing, the Native Americans would simply explain: 'We are letting our souls catch up with our bodies,'" Robbye explained.

            Robbye sets aside quiet time each morning where she "listens and lingers" with God by the river bank. “When all I hear is spiritual static, I know it’s time to sit on the river bank,” Robbye added.

            "It takes every ounce of life experience I have to be a chaplain here at Lenbrook," Robbye said. "But our residents are the ones with the most incredible life experiences to share, and I am the one who is blessed to be here."