Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Hosts Summit to Celebrate and Educate Caregivers

Operation Family Caregiver Partners with VA, Expands to Three New Sites

AMERICUS, GEORGIA — The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) announced a milestone agreement with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and bestowed awards upon exemplary caregivers at its caregiver summit on October 26. The 31st annual summit, held on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia, featured a welcome address from former First Lady Rosalynn Carter; a keynote speech by Mike Daly, whose caregiver journey has been documented over the past decade on CBS’s 60 Minutes; and practical panels on caregiver issues such as legal planning and self-care.

Just before lunch, Dr. Jennifer Olsen, RCI’s new executive director, introduced three new Operation Family Caregiver (OFC) sites that will be located at VA facilities in Tucson, Arizona; Temple, Texas (Central); and Fayetteville, North Carolina. These sites are the result of a dynamic new partnership between RCI and the VA’s Caregiver Support Program, and made possible by the generous support of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.

OFC is RCI’s signature military program. It is a proven, evidence-based program that provides support to the families of newly returning service members and veterans. Specially-trained coaches teach military families the skills needed to help overcome unforeseen challenges and cope more effectively with problems they never imagined. Caregivers who have completed the program report being less depressed and more satisfied with their lives, have fewer health complaints, and are generally more prepared to take care of their families. Those caregivers who are parents also report reduced anxiety among their child or children. Since its launch in 2012 with catalytic funding from Johnson & Johnson, OFC has helped nearly 850 families across the country.

“We know that family caregivers are critical members of a veteran’s treatment team, and OFC is doing a fantastic job providing them with all the tools they need to care for their veteran and also for themselves,” said Meg Kabat, the National Director of the Caregiver Support Program for the VA. “It is in all of our interests to make the program an integral part of a veteran’s healthcare.”

“The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is proud to partner with the VA and the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to increase access to a program like Operation Family Caregiver, which we know makes a huge difference in the mental health and well-being of veterans and their families,” said John Damonti, President of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.

Following the summit, Mrs. Carter honored 8 caregivers and one organization that exemplify excellence in caregiving at a celebratory dinner. The 2018 Rosalynn Carter Leadership in Caregiving Award was awarded to Riverside Center for Excellence and Lifelong Health in Williamsburg, Virginia.

In addition, five caregivers who have completed OFC, were awarded with Mattie J.T. Stepanek Caregiving Scholarships. The Stepanek Scholarships provide financial assistance to military caregivers who have demonstrated a commitment to caring not only for their loved ones, but for themselves. The 2018 awardees are Maria Baca of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Donna Dancer of Bulverde, Texas; Shawn Moore of Kansas City, Missouri; Courtney Sanders of Shorewood, Illinois; and Jeannine Szumigala of Depew, New York.

Finally, three Georgia-based caregivers received Caregiver of the Year Awards in the following categories: Susan Chamblee of Savannah was named the Georgia Volunteer Caregiver of the Year; Renee Peak of Savannah was named the Georgia Family Caregiver of the Year; and Mamie Smith of Macon was named the Georgia Para-Professional Caregiver of the Year.

“This summit showcased the reasons I was drawn to the Rosalynn Carter Institute: the striking realities caregivers face today, their strength and resilience, and the capacity of the philanthropic and public sectors to take care of our veterans and their families,” said Dr. Olsen. “I am honored to be here and ready to get started.”