Laureen Deibert is best friend of elderly

What started as a project to entertain elderly residents at an assisted-living facility grew into a nonprofit with more than 40 volunteers who lend a neighborly hand to Lowcountry seniors.

"It's amazing how this happened," said Laureen Deibert, who founded Love Inc. with Gena Januseski.

Deibert moved from Seattle to Charleston in 2003, and she started caring for her mother-in-law, Helen Deibert-Rolfe, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Although Deibert-Rolfe's memory grew hazy, she bubbled with stories from her service in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service during World War II. After the war, she moved through the influential Washington, D.C., party circuit.

When Deibert-Rolfe's needs became too great for her family to meet, they decided that the Savannah House, an assisted-living facility on James Island, could provide the round-the-clock care she needed.

Deibert wanted to make sure that those who cared for her mother-in-law knew more than her medical history, so she created a poster with a photograph and a biography.

That idea caught on throughout the Savannah House as Deibert started meeting other residents, several of whom had no family.

"I fell in love with them," she said. "I have an affinity with the elderly."

So Deibert enlisted the help of her friend, Januseski, to help photograph and write biographies for any resident who wanted to participate.

The James Island Journal ran the profiles with permission from the residents' families.

Love Inc. was born. Wednesdays became arts-and-crafts day. Surprise Saturday with the Girls is, well, a surprise.

"They come in not knowing what we're going to do," Deibert said. Once she and Januseski showed up dressed as gypsies and did palm readings. Another time they held an impromptu poetry reading.

Lisa Dickey, life enrichment coordinator at Savannah House, said, "I have seen the amazing impact that Laureen has on our residents. She brings them so much joy."

About 2 1/2 years ago, the nonprofit started working with people outside the Savannah House. Love Inc. matched volunteers with seniors in Adopt-a-Grandparent. Several other programs have been added, including help with transportation and prescriptions.

Januseski has since stepped down from the administrative side of the nonprofit. And Deibert is feeling the toll of long hours at a desk.

Deibert has a degenerative spine disease and lives in constant pain with rods in her back. "I don't tell people about my pain level," she said. Nor does she often share the fact that she has epilepsy. Working at home allows her to rest when she needs to.

Deibert recalled a Christian radio program that said God gives you a gift, and you better figure out what it is. When she started out with Love Inc., she thought her gift was photography.

Now she knows it's her love for the elderly. "But the gift really comes from them," she said.

"They have such tenderness, love and care. I'm so fortunate."