Caregiver Corps: Easing Front-Line Family Caregivers' Burdens


Isolated elders, out of work millennials and a rapidly aging population with a host of different care needs are three of America's most pressing social issues.

While lawmakers banter back and forth about how to solve these multi-faceted problems, one woman has decided to unite them underneath a single cohesive solution: A Caregiver Corps. You can help by signing this petition by Friday, April 5th.

The idea struck Janice Lynch Schuster, herself a caregiver to a father who's a cancer survivor, as she participated in a Twitter discussion about how the government could help improve the lives of older Americans.

"Let's have a Peace Corps for older adults," someone suggested.

That's all the inspiration Schuster needed.

"The idea just hit me, literally, like a bolt of lightning," she says. "I was going to launch a petition to create a Caregiver Corps modeled on the Peace Corps and, from there on, it was a done deal."

A few days and 150 signatures later, her petition for the creation of a "Caregiver Corps" went live on We The People, a website run by the White House that enables ordinary Americans to create and disseminate online petitions.

Teaching younger generations how to care

Modeled after other philanthropic initiatives, such as the Peace Corps and Teach for America, a potential "Caregiver Corps" would draw on the untapped resources of both the young and the recently-retired to help take care of America's elderly and provide some much-needed respite for some of the country's more than 60 million family caregivers. (Discover where to find respite resources for caregivers)

The program would require a two-year commitment. Volunteers would be provided with requisite training in elder care basics, be matched with different seniors based on talents and interests, and be offered the typical incentives, including student loan forgiveness, educational credit and possibly a monetary reimbursement.

Schuster also envisions another, less tangible, yet far more valuable benefit of participation: a shared sense of compassion.

"In the course of performing these duties, volunteers would develop and cultivate a new understanding of old age, and a deep respect for older adults," she says. "At the same time, older adults would see how keen young adults are to make a difference in the lives of other people. That keen interest can be tapped to help fill the increasingly empty pipeline of people who enjoy services aimed at helping older people." (Learn how helping others makes you happy)

Who would sign up to be a caregiver?

As any caregiver can attest, taking care of an elder is not for the faint-of heart. Would it be hard to find people (especially younger individuals) to sign up for something like this?

Perhaps, but Schuster doesn't see this as a significant obstacle.

Indeed, rates of volunteerism are highest among college-age adults. Tapping into the passion and energy of this youthful cohort would be an essential component of getting a Caregiver Corps off the ground.

The value of older volunteers shouldn't be discounted either. Volunteering can be a good strategy for keeping seniors busy and active. Recent retirees who're still healthy are likely to identify strongly with their less-fortunate peers, making them a compassionate source of service for this population.

How you can help

It won't solve every problem associated with elder care, but a legion of eager volunteers would certainly help alleviate the physical, mental and financial burdens faced by the country's caregivers. But, with no official government buy-in it will still be awhile before those on the front line see relief from a Caregiver Corps-type program.

A petition posted on We The People must garner at least 100,000 signatures before it is deemed worthy of further attention by the government. Right now, the Caregiver Corps petition has just over 1,800 signatures, and needs 98,000 more by April 5th to stay on the website.

Not meeting this difficult deadline doesn't faze Schuster.

Hopefully the coming days will bring more signatures, but the idea has received such powerful support from leaders in the health care and volunteer industries that she feels confident that, no matter what happens to the petition, the idea will gradually gather steam.

"I've received so many encouraging notes that relay people's own experiences with comments about how much a Caregiver Corps volunteer could have helped them in tough times," she says.

The biggest barrier to implementation is likely to come after getting the government to buy in to the idea of a Caregiver Corps. Getting policymakers to agree on how to structure and implement such a project will be a tricky task. "There are certainly a lot of logistics to be worked out, but I don't think they are insurmountable," the ever-optimistic Schuster notes.

For now, there is one thing you can do to help transform the Caregiver Corps from idea to reality: sign the petition.

Schuster also encourages people who are interested in more information and learning how they can get involved to contact her via this e-mail address:

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I have been asking since I was a teenager (51 now) "how do we help people who need help? How do we know they need help? How do we find them? I used to spend my free time (along with my mom, little brothers and friends) at Manassas Manor reading to patients, helping them write letters and cards as well as reading their incoming mail to them, intently listening to their stories or helping in the craft room. I have had a passion for helping people or simply doing shopping/driving to appointments/church/housecleaning/laundry, etc but never have gotten a good answer on how to connect with people in need.
AND in this crazy time we live in people no longer believe that there are people who enjoy assisting others, so it is hard to help. I think that everyone, especially elders have given so much and I find it awful that if you try to help them their friends/family who aren't interested in helping them think it's a scam. I think we need to gentle our hearts in this Country, and love everyone and see kindness as kindness. Caregiver Corps = benefit for every person in this Country!
I have been caring for my husband who is only 61 since 2008. I finally burned out in late 2012 but I still visit everyday to monitor the care he gets at our local facility. I would love to have him home but can't afford the help I need.