Rockingham County program gives relief to family caregivers

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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. -- Billie Minter and her daughter Crystal are getting into the Halloween spirit early this year, going on hay rides and wandering through a corn maze at Tuttle’s Farm in Eden.

Billie says she’s happy to get out the house with her daughter, who is 37 and has Down syndrome.

Being Crystal's full-time caregiver gets tough, but on this trip, she has help.

"It's been nice having them to help look after her and make sure she's OK," Minter said.

The field trip is part of a program through Rockingham County's Aging, Disability and Transit Services where caregivers get a much-needed break.

"You need more than one set of eyes, more than one set of hands on them, so we provide that support," said Asheley Cooper, director of community-based services.

Cooper helps run the respite program which allows caregivers to drop off their loved ones for seven to eight hours a day or to go out with them but with extra help.

"Someone is going to be there watching their loved one, providing some interaction with them while they're able to get away," Cooper said.

In Rockingham County, five caregivers are in the federally-funded program which runs on $15,000 a year.

Cooper is trying to raise more money to expand the program, applying to different foundations and reaching out to donors.

Billie has been part of the program for more than 10 years and says it's helped her avoid feeling overwhelmed.

"It sort of clears your brain a little,” she said.

It’s also allowed the mother to carve out some "me time."

"I do a lot of sewing at home," she said. "I have things that I do too.”