Local program provides support for caregivers and receivers

Sharon Cohen and Linda Mockler. (Photo by Rich Corozine)

By definition: respite (noun) — a delay or cessation for a time, especially from anything distressing or trying; vernacular — take a break.

The reality: the middle-aged woman/man taking care of an elder homebound father/mother every minute of every day…there is little to no cessation from the care-giving for both…both (care-giver and care-receiver) need a break, a respite from their obligations….there is no funds to contact a private nursing service and a nursing home is not viable financially or acceptable emotionally…So, what to do? Where to go?

Enter Linda Mockler, an independent social worker, and Sharon Cohen, the executive director of Jewish Family Services, and the RESPITE program. “It’s very difficult for care-givers to get out and the care-receiver to feel comfortable with another presence,” says Mockler, who advanced the idea to Cohen through the auspices of the non-profit JFS (Jewish Family Services) and the Ulster County Office of the Aging. That was three years ago. “We train people for three or four months to be care-givers,” says Mockler, alluding to training by REST (the Respite Education Support Training group, which certifies a trainor). “The training is bi-weekly at the New Paltz Community Center or at Woodland Pond.” At present RESPITE is attended by 50+ potential care-givers and care-receivers (in separate groups ) that share information and feelings about both, talk about solutions, resources available, have workshops, etc.


“JFS funds the program through the Older Americans Act, since the majority of our focus falls to older citizens,” says Cohen, who works in social policy and is an “aging” counselor at JFS. “It is a home-based program dealing also with issues like life transitions, people with disabilities, etc., providing counseling, with a clinical social worker, for relatives, friends and elder ‘orphans’…but we always need funding. Health care in America is great if you have the money,” she adds.

Most of the care given and received is experiential, since the RESPITE trained volunteer care-givers will be doing individual in-home care, not in a group setting like at the community center. “We require the volunteers to be open to being site-specific care-givers,” says Mockler. “They are going into people’s homes, so they need to familiarize themselves with those families, their specific dynamics, not just to assess the physical needs of the care-receiver.”

Mockler and Cohen have been doing outreach to get volunteers or to make the homebound givers and receivers aware of the program, like a new website, using speakers from affiliated agencies, advertising, applicable films (“Like a recent documentary on dementia,” says Mockler), conferences that enhance the idea of RESPITE and the organization LIFESPAN (out of Rochester), which directs people to these programs for the aging (the New York State Care-Giver/RESPITE Coalition).

“The idea behind RESPITE is not just about care, it is also a way for both the giver and receiver to socialize with others and to give autonomy to the homebound,” says Mockler. 

So, if you or anyone you know is a 24/7 care-giver, get in touch with the Jewish Family Services (845-338-2980)(non-denominational services provided) or the Ulster County Office of the Aging (845-340-3456), and get a RESPITE volunteer to help.