The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving is so impressed with a La Crosse County program that the institute picked it as one of six finalists out of nearly 50 candidates for a national award.
Even though the La Crosse County Aging Unit’s Caregiver Coach Program didn’t snag the top prize of $15,000, coach coordinator Amy Brezinka is jazzed about making the finals after the program has existed for just 18 months.
“It feels good to be part of the solution and to offer a service that helps caregivers get connected to area resources and to each other through local support groups and at the memory cafés,” Brezinka said.
Brezinka created a memory café, which provides support for those caring for family members and friends with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, dementia and chronic diseases, shortly after being hired as coordinator.
The Lunch Bunch Memory Café meets from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month at the Black River Neighborhood Center, where attendance has grown from six to more than 50 people.
Brezinka is launching another one, a coffee-and-treats meeting called the Traveled Roads Memory Café, next week at the Hazel Brown Leicht Memorial Library’s Community Room in West Salem.
The sessions, which will convene from 10 to 11:30 a.m. the second Friday of each month, are intended to reach caregivers in rural areas who may not be able to travel to La Crosse, Brezinka said.
She credits Aging Unit Director Noreen Holmes with fostering the program and helping her develop it.
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“Noreen has allowed me to be creative and encouraged a think-outside-the-box approach as I developed the Caregiver Coach Program and memory cafés in our county, which contributes to the success of the program,” said Brezinka, who also maintains contact with several other area support groups.
“There are so many care partners in our community who are overwhelmed with information, decisions and medical appointments,” Brezinka said.
Under the program, developed with the cooperation of memory clinics at Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, Brezinka receives referrals from the clinics.
Brezinka then contacts the caregivers to determine their needs and whether they are interested in attending the café meetings, receiving a home visit, or having a mentor for support and reassurance to relieve the stress of caregiving.
Laura Bauer, national initiatives director at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving in Americus, Ga., wrote a letter to Holmes on Aug. 25 notifying her that the program had been a finalist in a tight contest.
“We are very impressed with the work being done by your organization to recognize, support, educate and train family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” Bauer wrote.
Bader Philanthropies Inc. in Milwaukee also is a fan of the program, having given it a $100,000 grant to help bankroll its start-up in 2013 and contributing another $100,000 this year because of its success.
For more information about the Caregiver Coach Program, call Brezinka at 608-785-3460 or send her an email at ABrezinka@lacrossecounty.org.