Angela Walter volunteers as the facilitator for the Operation Homefront Hearts of Valor (HOV) group in Colorado. The statewide group comprises more than 100 military spouses and family members who care for their wounded warriors.
In Colorado Springs, where Walter lives, about 20 caregivers meet monthly. While other groups provide wonderful one-time opportunities for caregiver respite, HOV provides a family-like environment for caregivers by bringing them together regularly. Through HOV, caregivers have a safe place to discuss their challenges and focus on self-care and mindfulness.
Walter arranges programs that are both informational and nurturing. Carving out even 10 minutes of personal time in a day can help a caregiver avoid burnout, she said.
Walter develops activities that appeal to the group’s passion for crafting and include a self-care component.
For example, the group made memory boxes to take home. Each person went outside to collect four or five items that spoke to them. She asked them to explain why the items spoke to them. For one participant, an empty alcohol bottle illustrated how a caregiver might feel alcohol is the answer, but when the bottle is empty, circumstances haven’t changed.
She advised the caregivers to use the boxes at home as their peace box. “When you sit down with that box, even if it’s for just five minutes, it takes you back to your calm place.”
Another gathering focused on budget-friendly date nights at home. Choose a destination – Italy, for example – and choose food, music, and a movie that fit the theme. The group also learned tips for stocking the freezer with meals they could toss in a slow cooker to avoid spending money on eating out when time is tight.
Another practical topic was emergency preparedness, down to saving essential documents on a flash drive that’s stored in a safety-deposit box or with a relative in case the house is destroyed in a fire or a storm.
Other times, participants are treated to personal care such as a yoga class, a manicure, or a spa day. Once a year, they plan a holiday dinner so they have a reason to dress up and enjoy an elegant evening out.
Sometimes, they talk about challenges with medical providers or the VA. Other times, they play board games and laugh. That’s self-care, too, Walter said.
HOV meetings bring together caregivers at various stages in their journey, and they learn from and support each other. Sharing your strengths is another form of self-care, Walter pointed out, and the Colorado Springs HOV group works to support other Operation Homefront programs. They have made diaper cakes for a Star-Spangled Babies Showers and sorted toys for a Holiday Toy Drive.
Since 2008, more than 4,000 caregivers have participated in HOV, a program made possible by generous donors such as the Lewis E. Myers Caregiver Fund. Caregivers face tremendous challenges as they care for their loved ones 24/7 and cope with personality changes, frustrations, and compassion fatigue.
HOV meetings and annual retreats provide a respite from the daily stresses, whether it’s through informational meetings on topics as diverse as meal preparation and substance abuse or crafting, spa days, and holiday meals.