It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Almost 50 years ago, the Beatles hit Number One on the Billboard charts with the song Help! – a perfect anthem for this week. On April 15-21, we officially commemorate National Volunteer Week, and I am giving a “shout out” to those 65 million family caregivers nationwide who essentially have volunteered to care for a loved one who is sick, getting older or has a disability.
However, this is a time for us all to think about volunteering. In honor of our nation’s caregivers, what can you do to help them? Read on about the ways you can volunteer to help a caregiving friend, volunteer for caregiving organizations and why caregivers are more likely than the general population to become a volunteer when their caregiving tour of duty has ended.
Help the Caregiver in Your Life
It might be your mom, your brother, a sister-in-law, a co-worker, a neighbor or good friend but more than likely if you start asking those within your circle of family and friends – you will find a family caregiver. Two important things to know about caregivers:
- They often feel stressed, overwhelmed and suffer from burn-out from their caregiving duties which can ultimately impact their own health and well-being.
- They often feel alone in their caregiving journey which can lead to depression.
Here is what you can do to help:
Create a Community of Care – there are a few online sites where can you create private communities around the caregiver. One of my favorites is Lotsa Helping Hands. This free service allows you to send emails out to the caregiver’s inner circle asking them to sign up to be volunteers. There is a sophisticated calendar tool where you list tasks for things to help the caregiver. It might be picking up the caregiver’s kids at school because she is at the doctor’s office with her mom, or dropping off a meal for her family because she is at the nursing home that night visiting her loved one or sitting with her dad so she can get her hair done or go to the gym. What I like is the focus is on helping the caregiver. By giving that caregiver a “break,” also known as respite, this type of volunteering is a personal gift that every caregiver needs.
There are numerous organizations which offer an opportunity to get involved in helping caregivers in your local community. Whether it is home meal delivery, transportation needs, raising funds through a walk-a-thon – these are just a few things you can sign up for which support the caregivers where you live.
Here are some Web sites to check out in the various areas of caregiver support:
Home meal deliveries: More than eight million caregivers live long distance from their loved one and cannot be there every day to ensure they eat properly or at all. Meals on Wheels has more than 2.5 million volunteers who pack and deliver 1 million meals every day to those who are homebound – many of them over the age of 60. Their latest campaign is for Mother’s Day – volunteer to deliver a meal, donate $7 for a meal for a mom, or send a greeting card from their Web site. Meals on Wheels is about more than food – read my blog on Soul Food.
Transportation and Senior Driving Safety: Getting around is another way to help caregivers and their loved ones. Check these sites for becoming a volunteer driver: National Center for Senior Transportation, CarFit, ITNAmerica
Faith-based organizations: Many local churches, synagogues and mosques offer support groups and other ways to help caregivers. An inter-faith non-profit organization which has a plethora of volunteering opportunities is National Volunteer Caregiving Network (formerly known as Faith in Action Network). Typical services include transportation, grocery shopping, minor home repairs, friendly visiting, bill paying, light housekeeping and respite for the caregiver.
Hospice care: When facing end-of-life situations, there is an amazing network of volunteers for hospice support. More than 460,000 Americans volunteer every year to bring comfort and peace to grieving families – and, 20 percent of these volunteers are new to hospice care. Hospice volunteers find it personal gratifying and emotionally fulfilling to help families through what they call this “living” rather than “dying” experience. In fact, to de-institutionalize hospice care, facilities who receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement must have 5 percent of the hours of care provided be performed by volunteers.
You would think once a caregiver has been through their journey of caring for a loved one, they are ready to relax and take a long break. Not so according to a study published in the Journal of Gerontology that found that older adult caregivers were more likely to be volunteers than non-caregivers.
The study found that caregivers become “embedded in networks” once they become a caregiver, thus making them more likely to continue to seek these social interactions with like minds. They also have a routine of performing tasks for others – something they do not abandon even after caregiving ends. Thus, caregivers are more likely to become involved in social networking and organizational memberships. And, they may become very passionate about a cause which affected their loved one – great high profile examples are David Hyde Pierce who is a tireless advocate for finding a cure to the Alzheimer’s disease that affected his father and grandfather, and Holly Robinson Peete who created the HollyRod Foundation to support families facing Parkinson’s disease and autism which affected her father and son respectively.
Also, older adults find volunteering an integral part of their desire to give back to society (a strong trait that ties us Baby Boomers together). Thus, caregivers uniquely combine their “obligatory” activity (caregiving) with later “discretionary activities” (volunteering).
One way for former caregivers to get involved in their communities by helping other caregivers is through the National Family Caregivers Association Caregiver Community Action Network (CCANers). This caregiving “mentor/volunteers” network helps to spread the word about caregiving through interaction with private and public agencies especially during November’s National Family Caregiving Month.
Make a plan to “up your cultural capital” and care for the caregivers. Get up and out and volunteer to support caregivers this week (and every week).