Lisa Story: Hope Grows for Caregivers
What does a caregiver do but selflessly carry out the command to love one another? Providing for loved ones as a caregiver might mean doing shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking them to medical appointments, feeding or bathing them, or even providing 24-hour attention. About 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S. provide unpaid care to loved ones each year1. And these caregivers, with giving hearts and hands, can become increasingly tired and weary.
At a low point in her life, Lisa Story paid attention to a message that ended up helping many hundreds of caregivers. Lisa was grieving the loss of her father, as well as her mother who had died years earlier. In her sadness, she dreamed that her father was with her, smiling and reaching out to her, simply yet profoundly saying, “Hope grows.”
Lisa took the dream to heart. She felt that the message meant turning to nature, which she always loved, to focus on healing and wellness for herself and for others.
That was the start of Hope Grows, a non-profit organization providing care for caregivers.
Already passionate about exploring nature and planting flowers, Lisa began vegetable gardening. She came to appreciate the curative value of God’s natural creation, which helped her to leave behind grief and stress. She found personal restoration and renewal.
Lisa knew that caregivers, who give so much to care for those who need help, often don’t receive much support to care for themselves. Her plan to help them was taking root.
Lisa started Hope Grows with the mission “to inspire hope through nature while empowering caregivers to seek wellness of mind, body and spirit.”
Lisa was already helping people going through difficult times as a licensed professional Counselor. She has a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, as well as certificates in Addictions Counseling, in Horticultural Therapy, and in Thanatology (study of death, needs of terminally ill patients and their families).
“I was prepared in so many ways to establish Hope Grows – and that was divine, not accidental,” she shares. “But I also knew I needed help, particularly in the business side of non-profit management.” So while she stepped out in faith, she also sought and followed sound advice
Nearly 10 years later, Hope Grows provides an array of services to caregivers that includes counseling, support groups, resources and therapeutic respite activities to help alleviate stress and to provide a focus on much-needed self-care.
One caregiver-turned-volunteer, Karen Lewis, explains the value of knowing that Hope Grows is available. “Caregiving is a 24/7 job. Even when you’re not physically with your loved one, you’re consumed with the situation. It can drain you physically, socially, and especially emotionally. So knowing that you have a resource to turn to, people who care and can help, makes all the difference in the world.”
Hope Grows initially sends caregivers a Welcome Caregiver packet with information on the organization’s services, self-care tips, caring pin, essential oil, self-affirmation suggestion, and more. This is then followed up with weekly caregiver tips by email. And each month, they receive a monthly check-in call.
“We’ve heard from caregivers that the regular call can be a lifeline,” Lisa says. “Our callers are trained to listen and pay attention to know if there’s need for a support group, counseling, or any other resources. Is Mom having a hard time getting down the steps? Has there been a personality change? Has there been a problem with medications? Then the caller knows how to help. Or maybe all that was needed that day was a friendly voice saying, ‘You’re not alone; we’re here for you.’”
Lisa also explains the value of relaxation. “It’s hard for caregivers to focus on self-care. They feel guilty about leaving their loved one, may not trust others to the care, or have financial burdens – each story is different. What’s common is that caregivers tend not to take time out for themselves.”
Respite, however brief, is a precious gift of renewal for the caregiver.
Hope Grows encourages and also provides short breaks, such as nature walks, meditation or yoga classes. Virtual offerings, increased during Covid, provide online ideas and tools to help caregivers relax.
And once a year, Hope Grows holds a Day of Rest and Relaxation. This day includes activities such as massages, craft making, group discussions, meals and much more. It is now held live and also livestreamed, to accommodate the diverse needs of caregivers.
Karen talks about volunteering at the day-long events. “When they walk in the door, so many of the caregivers are looking down, just dragging themselves in with weary and heavy hearts. I could see in them the person I once was. Worried and preoccupied. After a while they bond with each other and you hear the chatter and laughter. They not only enjoy the day, but they’re changed when they leave. They seem to grow taller – holding their heads up as though they’ve regained some strength.”
Lisa and Hope Grows believe that caregivers need to be celebrated for the good that they do.
Another popular program is the free Turkey Meals at Thanksgiving. The Bob Evans restaurant in Moon Twp., PA provides a deep discount for the prepared meals, which Hope Grows then provides and delivers at no cost to the caregivers. One volunteer described, “It’s a time of great connection, when we’re able to provide tangible appreciation for caregivers. We give them good food they only need to heat up. We say, ‘Thanks for all you do. You matter and deserve this gift.’ They do so much for others all the time, it’s wonderful to do something for them!”
Hope Grows achieves its success with the help of about 10 independent contractors and nearly 115 volunteers. Lisa says that they have helped about 1,000 caregivers since they’ve started, but some people close to the organization point out that the number is much greater. That number doesn’t take into account the ripple effect.
Many caregivers who have been helped by Hope Grows pass along what they have learned with others. The benefits multiply.
George White, once a caregiver for his mother, says that he benefitted greatly from Hope Grows, especially in areas of self-care, life balance and stress management. He is himself a family-based counselor, and shares some of what he learned from Hope Grows with his clients. “One of the techniques I used for myself and suggest is self-care. It is very important when it comes to caring for others or even your own mental health. Other techniques I learned and use with my clients are setting boundaries with others, coping skills, and time management.”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Hope Grows is located on a beautifully landscaped property with healing gardens. Amazingly, a previous owner was given the land because she was the family caregiver. While Lisa didn’t know this history when she purchased the property, she wasn’t surprised to learn of the trail of giving and gifting that seems to permeate the place.
And it continues. Lisa and her team are now preparing a lovely home on the property, the Iris Respite House, to be a bed and breakfast with spa-like amenities. It will be a place for current and past caregivers to find rest for the mind, body and spirit. Lisa expects the B&B to be up and running for caregivers, by mid-summer of 2022.
There seems to be no end to what Hope Grows does or can do. There is a stage beyond caregiving – and that is when caregivers lose their loved ones to death. Hope Grows even has a program to help these caregivers through the bereavement process. The support begins with a packet that expresses heart-felt condolences and continues with an array of “after care” support programs.
Lisa Story decided a long time ago to help people by spreading hope. And Hope Grows.
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
- Romans 1:11-12
1Provided by the National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP
___ If you would like to support caregivers, refer a caregiver or find out more about Hope Grows, go to www.hopegrows.net.