Everyone deserves a break, even those helping loved ones in need.
According to Stevenson Ranch resident Carletta Cole, founder of the local nonprofit Caregiver Safe Place — which provides resources and short-term relief for primary caregivers — people who care for those aging or those with disabilities often can’t afford a break or they feel guilty about doing something for themselves when a loved one requires their assistance.
From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, Caregiver Safe Place is set to host “Runway to Compassion,” a charity fashion show at the 501 Broadway Studio in Santa Monica to raise funds to provide caregivers a much-needed “day off.”
“The biggest thing for my foundation is to help (primary caregivers) get back to some sort of normalcy,” Cole told The Signal in a recent telephone interview. “Whether it’s going to get your hair done, going to the spa, getting a pedicure or getting a massage. Some people like to play golf — golf relaxes people — or go to the shooting range. Anything that could assist you with getting back to your normalcy, but still be able to care for your loved one so you can have a balance, that is what I want to do, even if it’s just for one day.”
Cole knows from experience that these kinds of breaks and self-care are not only appreciated, but also very much needed. About six years ago, her mother was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, or PSP.
“A lot of people don’t understand — until they’re in that position — what caring for an aging parent, a kid with a disability, a traumatic brain injury, or even a veteran is like,” Cole said. “It’s a hard situation to be put in.”
She founded Caregiver Safe Place not only to provide caregivers with the resources they need to cope and to give caregivers a well-deserved break, but, she said, “If I’m doing this by myself, I know other caregivers are doing it, too.”
Cole said she quickly became overwhelmed when caring for her mom, and she looked after her mom for about four years with no real breaks from it. Even her siblings couldn’t help. They were still in Orlando, Florida, which is where she lived before moving to the area.
“During that time,” she said, “it was COVID. We were on lockdown, so, I didn’t have anyone that could just come here and go back home and come here and go back home. It wasn’t feasible.”
Cole’s son, actor McCarrie McCausland, who’s 22 years old now but was 16 at the time, lived with his mom and grandmother when Cole’s mom got sick. While Cole didn’t want to burden her son with tasks to help her mom, especially since he was in school, auditioning and acting, McCausland said he felt obligated to help.
“I guess, mentally, I had checked out from working just because I realized that I had to make some priority shifts,” McCausland added.
Watching his grandmother slowly deteriorate — a woman he grew up with, who helped raise him — was an emotional struggle unlike anything he’d ever gone through. He said it certainly took a toll on his mental state of being and often kept him from auditioning.
“Every artist has a particular process that they go through when preparing for (an audition or a part),” McCausland told The Signal. “Mine is very heavy and reliant on my solitude — isolation. Like, I need to be by myself in order to get this together. And you can’t really do that.”
Previous to his grandmother getting sick, the young actor, who’s been working professionally in films and TV since he was 3 years old, would lock himself in his room to prepare for a part. All that changed. His mom, a wardrobe stylist and hairstylist by trade, still had to work, he said, and that often left him to feed his grandmother and help her move around the home.
“We feel like, as parents,” Cole said, “we don’t have to talk to the kids about this stuff. You know, they have to just basically fall in line, when really, you should talk to the kids because the kids feel the same effect that you would because these are their grandparents or their sister or their brother or their dad or their uncle.”
Cole’s mom died on Sept. 21, 2020. Before that, Cole said she’d searched for any help offered to caregivers, but she found nothing.
“I was overwhelmed,” she recalled. “I couldn’t find any assistance for me as the caregiver to give me some type of respite care.”
Caregiver Safe Place filled that gap.
Cole began helping other caregivers with her organization the way she wanted help, offering to pay to get others’ hair done or for in-house assistance to care for someone’s loved one so they could go out for self-care or therapy.
“A lot of people forget that therapy helps,” she said. “You don’t want to bug your friends. You don’t want to inconvenience anyone else or bring someone else’s day down. So, talking to a therapist helps you get all of it out. And that helps a lot for the caregiver burnout.”
Cole said she started Caregiver Safe Place out of her own pocket, offering to fund “days off” for caregivers. And while she gradually found help from local organizations to assist in these days off, the main reason she’s doing “Runway to Compassion” is to raise money — and awareness as well — to help fund more.
The upcoming fundraiser will feature a cocktail reception, a silent auction, a fashion show and special tributes to the 2022 Caregiver Safe Place honorees, including caregiver/author/motivational speaker Dave Nassaney and caregiver/award-winning musician Lucien George (aka Bowlegged Lou of Full Force).
The fashion show idea is a nod to Cole’s late mother.
“My mom loved fashion,” Cole said. “And I love fashion. With fashion, when you dress up, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel rejuvenated and you feel your best when you’re going to something like that. So, I felt that if the caregivers had a chance to just dress up and get out and come and celebrate themselves, I thought that that would be a great idea.”
For more information about Caregiver Safe Place, go to CaregiverSafePlace.com. To nominate a caregiver who needs a break — which is the way Caregiver Safe Place identifies those in need — or to donate or volunteer your own time, click the “Get Involved” tab on the home page.