One organization in Southeast Alaska is reaching out to people who take care of the elderly. They’ll be in Petersburg this week to begin outreach to caregivers in this community.

Shelly Smith is a family caregiver support specialist with the Juneau-based Southeast Senior Services, part of Catholic Community Service. She says she visits Southeast communities a couple times a year.

“My primary goal is to connect with as many caregivers as I can in Southeast Alaska,” says Smith.

She plans to stop in Petersburg after a stop in Wrangell. It’s her first visit to Petersburg, one she says is possible because of grant funding to do more outreach in the region.

“The primary mission of this program is to help elders live independently as long as possible,” says Smith. “We know that the elders in our community like to live independently and in supporting their caregivers that actually allows them to extend that that time that they can remain in the home and not being placed outside the home.”

Smith defines a caregiver as a family member or friend who is caring for someone 60 years of age or older – someone in need of another person to help them live independently.

“And these are unpaid caregivers. Our program is designed specifically to support people who are not paid to care for their elders,” Smith says.

According to Smith, her organization provides a variety of services for those watching over friends and family members. And, she says, because of state and federal funding – the resources are free. Among these resources are chore services, support groups and educational materials.

“We provide mini grant funding for respite care and that means that we can provide funding to have someone come into the home and to help the caregiver with caring for their elder,” says Smith. “Or that they may be able to help with chores or errands or financial responsibilities. Or just time for the caregiver to get away and take care of themselves. Because we know that the work of caregiving is challenging, it can be stressful, and so it’s very important that caregivers get time to take care of themselves as well.”

Both the Medical Center and Mountain View Manor are on Smith’s itinerary while she’s in town this week.

“We’re very excited about coming and connecting with people,” Smith says. “So this initial trip will be primarily introductions and meeting with folks who regularly interact with caregivers.”

Smith says by meeting with community members in Petersburg she hopes to convey that she’s here to listen.

“We know that caregiving is something that can span many years, even decades. And so that relationship and that role as a caregiver is ever changing. So we very much want to establish relationships with caregivers so that we may continue to correspond with them. To learn what their needs are, how they’re changing, and how our services can change to meet their needs,” says Smith.

Smith says she hopes to return to Petersburg.

“Next time we come we hope to have established some relationships with some caregivers in Petersburg and maybe next time we do a workshop – there’s lots of training opportunities on caregiving skills,” Smith says. “We can do support groups, we can do things on self-care. So there’s a variety of different ways and services we can provide ways to connect with our caregivers.”

Smith says as the elder population grows, so do the demands on those responsible for their care.

“There’s going to be a lot of demands on services as our population grows into older age. And one of those is going to be on other family members and friends because most elders rely on family members and friends to provide a lot of their care and to keep them at home working independently,” says Smith.

Though Smith says she plans to spend this visit mainly introducing herself to people who are in regular contact with caregivers, and providing information about her program and services, she says if anyone here would like to meet with her, she will make time.

If anyone does want to get in contact with Shelly Smith about meeting with her while she is in Petersburg, or to find out more about applying for services, you can call the toll free number 866-746-6177.