Christina Keys became her mother’s caregiver seven years ago. Starting out, Keys didn’t know a lot about being a family caregiver and had a lot of questions. Keys and others behind Loving Them Forward, a new nonprofit, aim to support caregivers who may have similar questions and anxieties.
In the beginning, Keys spent all of her time caring for her mother and neglected to care for herself; she gained weight and developed health problems.
“Everybody kept saying ‘You just have to set boundaries. You need to do some self care.’ And, I didn’t know how to do that,” Keys said.
Slowly, she learned how to take care of herself, even if it happened in five-minute increments.
“Your mind is so clouded as a caregiver you think if you have five minutes you have a million things you should be doing,” Keys said. “When I take care of myself, when I do some self care, there’s a lot more mother-daughter time rather than just tasking.”
Keys eventually took a job in the retirement and senior industry. As she learned more about the industry, available resources and how to be a caregiver, she grew concerned about caregivers who weren’t taking care of themselves and didn’t know the things she was learning, like what an end-of-life doula does or what anticipatory grief counseling is about.
“They’re suffering. They’re being isolated. They have a lot of questions. They don’t know where to go to get answers,” Keys said.
And, she wondered, why wasn’t there a resource fair in town to help people learn what was available?
Enter: Loving Them Forward. In June, Loving Them Forward became an official nonprofit offering caregiver support groups, trainings, community events and resource referrals, all free of charge. Keys, the nonprofit’s president and one of its founders, acknowledged that what it does is similar to the Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities of Southwest Washington, but Loving Them Forward focuses specifically on Clark County.
Despite being a new nonprofit, the all-volunteer group has built momentum behind it. Its monthly meetings with partner businesses and agencies have outgrown two spaces already.
Keys said Loving Them Forward helps people with everything from respite to dog care to lawyers to real estate agents — “everything you could possibly imagine that a family caregiver or a senior would need.”
There’s a phone number caregivers can call to talk with a peer who will listen to their story, identify gaps in services and steer them toward resources.
“We get paid in tears and hugs, and a sigh of relief,” Keys quipped.
Loving Them Forward is holding a launch party Wednesday to better introduce itself to the community. There will be information about the nonprofit and its partner agencies and caregivers will talk about their experiences. Keys said the goal is to raise $5,000 during the event to support Loving Them Forward’s work and to fund caregiver on-the-go packs to give to caregivers doing overnight stays.
Keys said the work Loving Them Forward does brings her closer to her mother. In a way, it’s part of her self care.
“This right here it’s showing my mom she’s not a burden, she’s a blessing. And, it’s a love letter to her and what we’re doing together,” Keys said.