An Oasis on Lake Erie for Family Caregivers: Exhale spurs innovation for respite programs

Exhale at Cradle Beach

This story originally appeared in our 2022 annual report.

Located south of Buffalo on the shores of Lake Erie, Cradle Beach is known as the long-time home of an enriching summer camp for children, including those with or without disabilities and from low-income communities. Now, a new collaboration through Exhale, the Family Caregiver Initiative—a partnership of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Health Foundation—is giving family caregivers and their older adult loved ones the chance to find support and enjoy this beautiful setting too.

Pathways for Caregivers, a program developed through Exhale by Cradle Beach, Harmonia Collaborative Care, and older adults care consultant Lisa Rood, offers family caregivers monthly, four-hour respite sessions at Cradle Beach’s campus.

Caregivers can choose to either stay at Cradle Beach and enjoy a variety of activities and resources, or use that time for themselves while their family member takes part in an activity or receives individual care.

“This is an opportunity for caregivers to step away from stress and find what they need in a calm, scenic setting; an oasis,” said Ann-Marie Orlowski, Chief Executive Officer of Cradle Beach.

Activities offered by Pathways for Caregivers are developed with the input of caregivers and their loved ones, an approach that builds on the person-centered concept of creative problem solving that is central to Exhale. Creative problem solving uses innovation and collaboration to find and plan solutions to problems.

During focus groups as part of the program’s development, Ann-Marie noted that many caregivers said they simply wanted to be in nature or take a walk on the beach, making Cradle Beach’s campus an ideal location.

“This setting gives us the chance to offer so many options for activities—walking along the paved path, visiting the beach, building bird houses together,” said Lisa. “Our activities for both the caregiver and their loved one are fun and enriching.”

During respite program hours, a caregiver support group is offered by Harmonia’s clinical staff. Caregiver education, resources and support services are also provided by the Pathways team.

“Caregivers often don’t have time or energy to seek out all the supportive resources that are available to them, or they might not even be aware of them,” said Jennifer Gunia, Director of Senior Services for Harmonia. “This gives us the chance to connect people to those services and benefits to help improve their lives.”

Pathways for Caregivers was one of 12 funded Exhale projects in 2022. Exhale is a partnership of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to help bring innovative respite opportunities to family caregivers in western New York and southeast Michigan.

As part of Exhale, organizations participated in a series of virtual workshops and received free training in creative problem solving and project management facilitated by The Philanthropic Institute and Teresa Lawrence. Exhale’s 12 funded projects for 2022 involve a total of 58 partner organizations.

Over 1,260 caregivers have been reached through Exhale since it was launched.

The Pathways for Caregivers team shared that Exhale provided benefits on many levels, helping them focus their project into achievable goals and connecting them with other caregiver resources across the region. But the opportunity to be creative with their partners and prioritize the real-life needs of caregivers is what sets Exhale apart.

“Historically, when you’re receiving funding, the funder sets the parameters of what you need to do. Exhale really flipped that script,” said Ann-Marie, who said interest in Pathways for Caregivers is growing quickly and she anticipates up to 50 participants per respite session. “It gave us the resources, time, and opportunity to work with other leaders to create solutions. This is the first time I’ve been part of something with that approach.”

Read more about Exhale here.