"I've never had children, I've never been around children, and I don't know a lot about children with disabilities," MaryJo Alimena Caruso recalls one 60-year-old woman announcing to her. Yet this woman still wanted to volunteer for CareBreak, the Watson Institute
program that matches adults with families whose children need constant care -- and who could use a weekly break in the action.
CareBreak volunteers don't have to have any particular experience, Caruso says -- just the desire to volunteer for something that lasts. "They want to make a difference in a way that develops a relationship," says Caruso, who is CareBreak's coordinator. In the case of the 60-year-old volunteer, who cautioned that she was rather immobile besides, CareBreak matched her with a small child who must use a wheelchair, and they've been together for 10 years now.
"I think of it like a dating service," Caruso jokes. The program serves kids up to 16 years old in Allegheny and Beaver counties and the Cranberry Township area of Butler County.
Besides providing companionship for the child, volunteers may do therapeutic or purely fun activities with him or her, in or outside the home (where possible), as well as helping with school work, developing social skills, and performing basic care and feeding.
The respite these volunteers give to families and other caregivers goes beyond the several-hour break. Not only does it reduce their stress level and the secondary health issues that often accompany stress, it gives them another adult with the potential to see their children as just kids, which doesn't happen often enough in public.
The program, which is free, is relatively small, serving 54 families currently, but Watson is always looking for new volunteers. Concludes Caruso: "We also recognize that our kids need a break from their parents."
• Need CareBreak? Request a Family Registration form at 412-749-2863 or 866-893-4751.
• Want to volunteer -- or create a respite program on CareBreak's model? Call 412-749-2863 or email MaryJo Alimena Caruso
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: MaryJo Alimena Caruso, Watson Institute
Image courtesy of the Watson Institute