Community honors its military caregivers
NORTH PROVIDENCE – North Providence was named as Rhode Island’s first Hidden Hero Community because city leaders are committed to better serving caregivers of local military veterans.
“The ripple effect of what you have done today by signing this resolution will help caregivers for years to come,” said Consuelo Bulawan-Jessop, a North Providence resident and caregiver of her veteran husband.
Sharing her story at an event at the Meehan Overlook on Monday afternoon, Bulawan-Jessop said she grew up in a military family, enjoying the unique experience of being inside a gate. planes before the age of 5, thanks to his father’s career in the Navy.
In 2011, she married her husband, Christopher, a veteran of the United States Army.
“The first few years of marriage were happy, until the many layers of my husband’s combat service started to surface,” she said. Christopher suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, head trauma, depression, tinnitus and debilitating headaches.
When it became clear that her husband’s health should be a priority, Bulawan-Jessop left her 25-year career as a hairdresser to work full-time as Christopher’s caregiver.
Since then, Bulawan-Jessop has said she needs to let go of “who she was” and find out who she could be. She has held an assortment of roles, from lawyer to sole house keeper, cook, emotional support person, nurse and driver.
In 2018, she had the opportunity to attend a Respite Opportunity – a service that offers relief to military caregivers by temporarily taking over their duties. It was the first time she learned of caregiver burnout.
“These words touched me deeply,” she said, adding that it is important for caregivers to take the time to focus on their own emotional, mental and physical well-being.
Bulawan-Jessop was named Rhode Island’s Dole Caregiver Fellow in 2018 by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the leading nonprofit that supports those caring for veterans at home. His focus since then has been to help and honor the state’s hidden heroes.
Last year, she developed a wellness project for local caregivers to tackle burnout and isolation, which ended abruptly due to COVID-19. The second attempt to run the program lasted three weeks before the state went on hiatus.
“They say the third time is the charm,” she said. The program resumed on April 5 with two caregivers. She asked program partners if they thought it was worth continuing with just two.
“They said as long as there are caregivers here, we will be there,” she said. The partners offered the group the possibility of being taken care of, techniques to help them through difficult times, information on caregiver burnout and various other resources.
At the end of the program, five local caregivers were involved. Bulawan-Jessop described them as “a diverse group of women with incredible stories”.
Although the 12-week program is coming to an end, Bulawan-Jessop said this is just the start for North Providence as a community of hidden heroes.
Its goal now is to join forces with local community organizations to better serve the state’s military caregivers. There are an estimated 5.5 million caregivers in the United States, providing more than $ 14 million a year in unpaid care.
The Hidden Heroes campaign seeks to recognize them, connect them with resources and support.
“We may be the smallest state in the country, but we have to believe that we can achieve great things together,” she said.
Mayor Charles Lombardi was on hand to sign the declaration making North Providence the first in the state to pledge support. Lombardi thanked caregivers for what they are doing and pledged to work to ensure North Providence sets an example for other communities by supporting its caregivers.