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Reflections on Students as Caregivers

Adult in Home Supervisor Jeff Nunham interviewing a prospective student for a job as caregiver.

Is Caregiving a lower case job or a real JOB?

Taking a closer look at our caregiver population we are reflecting on students as caregivers.While we appreciate all of our caregiving staff, currently a large percentage of our caregivers are students who spend less than a year in service to our mission, it is interesting to weigh the benefits of a transient caregiver population. Because we are situated so close to Michigan State University, we find that there is a never-ending supply of students who find the work of caregiving to be a convenient job (note the lower case) which can work well around their class schedule. In the past year we have intentionally reached out to several of the colleges at MSU with the idea of cultivating more students in related fields of study such as Family Studies, Kinesiology, Social Work, and more. We search for those that are looking for a preview of sorts to their ultimate JOB.

Students as Caregivers – Lessons Learned

What we have learned is that it is important to value both those in search of a job or a JOB because the work that we offer can have personal significance in either case. “When I sit with prospective caregivers to discuss the feasibility and consequences of working for Helping Hands Respite Care, I am most mindful of the fact that these people that we are about to launch into our system have no idea of the tremendous impact they may have on the people they are about to serve,” shared Adult In-Home Supervisor Jeff Nunham. “I say to them: The person you serve and their disability will call you up to a larger capacity to help. There is a reciprocal relationship that evolves out of this service. You will experience moments of excruciating truth when the person you are serving will become a mirror to reveal your true self.”

There are some drawbacks to students as caregivers. By definition most are transient, and some even between semesters may be heading home to families in distant cities. We recognize this challenge and are searching for ways to mitigate the absences which might occur between semesters or the conflicts with major university life events such as the “big game” or exam periods.

Nunham frequently reports on the transformative nature of the caregiver work at Helping Hands Respite Care. Many students will come to this work as a means to an end ….a lower case job with hours flexibility that makes room for pursuing and/or completing chosen areas of study – not always within the human services field. “Some of my best days are the ones when I find that a caregiver is making a dramatic change in the course of the educational career path, all because of the things they have learned about themselves while being in service to a family in need of care. Now it is a real JOB!”
Aside from fulfilling our mission to provide quality respite care for families in need, one of the benefits we receive at Helping Hands Respite Care is knowing that we are providing an opportunity for meaningful and sometimes life-changing work for young people in our community.