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A Life-Line for Caregivers

Posted On December 31, 2018

Leeza’s Care Connection center is dedicated to serving caregivers

By WARREN HUGHES

“I want to thank you for all the wonderful help, encouragement and information you have given me,” the new client said as she departed with an armful of helpful material. “Y’all have been great. When we first got the diagnosis, we were so upset. Our lives had been turned upside down and we didn’t know where to turn.”

A friend had told her about Leeza’s Care Connection where support is available for caregivers of loved ones with chronic illnesses. A cup of coffee and an initial visit with Director Marti Colucci assured the anxious client there are programs available to help her handle the issues she will face.

“Just this one visit has given me a sense of belonging I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else,” she said. “I feel so blessed to have found it when I did. Their guidance is so helpful.” She was especially comforted knowing she and her husband are no longer alone in facing their new challenges.

This kind of scene is repeated several times a day at the innovative center offering its free services to those who often feel lost and alone. 

“Leeza's Care Connection is the first place to go when illness changes everything,” Colucci says.  “We believe that those with Alzheimer's or any other illness and their families need support. Because they often feel overwhelmed, we empower them and help them cope.”  

One of the most important assurances a caregiver can receive at the outset is realizing they aren’t alone, she said. Sharing the latest numbers, she points out 39 percent of adults in the United States are caregivers; the average age is 49; and if they don’t get support, 63 percent of older adults who are stressed by their roles may die before their patients; and 38 percent of caregivers acknowledge they find their responsibilities stressful.

Best-selling author and television icon Leeza Gibbons, who grew up in Columbia, established the care center in 2016 through her foundation in memory of her mother who died from Alzheimer’s disease. A health and wellness advocate, Gibbons used her earnings as the winning contestant in NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” to start the Columbia area center dedicated to serving caregivers. A California resident, Gibbons returns regularly for visits with her father, retired educator Dr. Carlos Gibbons, and family, and to oversee the programs at the center. It is in the former home of the late real estate developer and civic leader Michael J. Mungo and his wife, Mary Meech Mungo, provided by the Mungo foundation. Mungo’s son Stewart was helping Gibbons scout for a location to house the local center when they realized the St. Andrews property was an ideal setting.  

Gibbons says it is a dream come true to serve friends and neighbors and to help caregivers know that they can still hang onto to themselves even as they let go of someone they love. She understands firsthand the demands placed on caregivers. “Nationally, there are over 65 million caregivers currently taking care of a loved one going through a health crisis - that’s 30 percent of our population,” she said. “These are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends who are taking care of people they love. They are often depressed, stressed and depleted, which can lead to burnout and cause stress-related disorders that can take up to ten years off the life of the caregiver.”

Handling day-to-day operations in the nurturing homelike center, Director Colucci brings a natural empathy to her position with a background in hospice and social service.  “At Leeza’s Care Connection we are the next step when you learn a loved one has a serious illness or any chronic disease. We help families summon their strength and call on their courage as they get ready to move forward with a new, normal way of being on the difficult journey ahead.”

Teamed with Colucci is Program Director Kena Dill who brings her own experience as a caregiver for her mother to the center. “Like many former caregivers, I often felt the need to give back to those who give so much,” she said. With a background in clinical and community psychology, her passion for helping others led her to Leeza’s Care Connection.

A range of activities with programs, workshops and educational seminars are offered each month. The atmosphere is focused on finding joy and empowerment through self-care. Ongoing offerings meet the same day and time each month, while others change.

For example, Colucci points out, “A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. You’ll talk about your problems and listen to others talk. You’ll not only get help, but you’ll also be able to help others. Most importantly, you’ll find out that you’re not alone. You’ll feel better knowing that other people are in the same situation, and their knowledge can be invaluable, especially if they’re caring for someone with the same illness as you are.”

Colucci and Dill are the only full-time staff members. Other support comes from volunteer instructors and subject matter experts who donate their time, talent and energy to the program, Colucci said. 

“We are blessed to have a robust and qualified volunteer force. They drive much of our fundraising including our upcoming senior prom March 8, 2019. The prom pairs high school students with a special senior in their lives. We’re excited to create this multigenerational event to honor legacies and love. We hope they’ll pin a corsage on their favorite date and dance the night away,” Colucci said.


Caregiver Support Groups

Day and evening sessions: 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month 1-2:15 p.m.; 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 6-7:15 p.m. 
Support Group for Early Stages of Dementia: 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 11:30am-1 p.m.
Keeping the Faith: 1st & 3rd Thursday, 1-2:15 p.m.

Wellness and Energy Programs

Coffee & Canvas Thursday (art projects) 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Men’s Coffee Club - 2nd and 4th Friday 9:30 a.m. 
Beginner Line Dancing - 1st and 3rd Tuesday, 1-2 p.m. 

See Leeza’s Care Connection monthly calendar for weekly lunch and learn educational programming at www.leezascareconnection.org.

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