Happy Birthday to Caregiving’s Pioneer – Rosalynn Carter

By on August 18, 2011

By: Sherri Snelling –

If there is one thing that is distinctly American – it is our pioneering spirit. Whether it was Lewis & Clark first exploring the country all the way to the Pacific Ocean (with more than a little help from Sacagawea), Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon and Sally Ride exploring space, Martin Luther King, Jr. marching towards true civil rights, Jackie Robinson breaking sports taboos with his bat and glove and Albert Einstein theorizing on science – Americans have always been “O Pioneers!” (as Willa Cather would say).

On August 18 – we honor the birthday of another pioneer – former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. It was Mrs. Carter who became the first public figure to truly champion the cause of those 65 million Americans today caring for loved ones who are older, chronically ill, disabled or challenged by mental illness. In fact, it was Mrs. Carter who coined the oft repeated description of family caregivers:

You have either been a caregiver,
You are a caregiver,
You will be a caregiver,
Or someone will care for you.

In her book, Helping Yourself Help Others – A Book for Caregivers, Mrs. Carter writes, “We can learn to approach caregiving as a blessing as well as a challenging task.”

She knows of what she speaks firsthand: Rosalynn was only 12 years old when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. As the eldest daughter, she helped care for her ailing father and supported her mother by also caring for her younger siblings. She took up caregiving again for several relatives with cancer after she left the White House and was caregiver for her mother who died in 2000 at age 94.

Rosalynn’s gift to caregivers comes from a lifetime of understanding the challenges – emotional, physical and financial – that accompany caring for a loved one. A long-time devoted and determined advocate for those Americans with mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter is also behind the founding of the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Georgia in 1987.

The mission of the RCI is to establish local, state and national partnerships with organizations focused on quality, long-term home and community based services to help caregivers. The RCI activities include a variety of advocacy, academic, and awards and scholarship programs. While many of the caregiver programs are Georgia-based, these programs are examples that help lead the way for nationwide caregiver support, education and training.

Proving that the pioneer in us never diminishes, Mrs. Carter is still active today in caregiving issues recently testifying before Congress on May 26 for reauthorization of the Older Americans Act which includes a National Family Caregiver Program. She also continues to be a strong advocate for the caregivers of those with mental illness. Her most recent book, published last year, is Within our Reach: Ending the Mental Health Crisis (with Susan K. Golant and Kathryn E. Cade). And, for anyone who thinks that being an octogenarian means you do not understand or embrace new technology – check out the PSA video that Mrs. Carter filmed with actress Patricia Bethune – on YouTube.

As Mrs. Carter blows out the candles on her cake for her 84th birthday, let us wish that the spotlight she has shined on caregivers never dims. Happy Birthday Mrs. Carter!

©2011 Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is also executive producer and host of the caregiving TV program Handle With Care. You can find more information at: http://www.caregivingclub.com/.

About Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is executive producer and host of a new caregiving TV series, Handle with Care on RLTV and co-producer of the Silvers Summit at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Sherri is a consultant, media contributor, and frequent guest speaker on the nation’s Baby Boomers and their caregiving role as the “The Sandwich Generation.” Website: www.caregivingclub.com

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Happy Birthday to Caregiving’s Pioneer – Rosalynn Carter