Visionary Award Nominee: Gayle Alston


Visionary Award Nominee: Gayle Alston

Nominated by: Laura Bauer

Tell us about the nominee's caregiving story.
Gayle Alston is the Director of the RCI Training Center for Excellence at the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW). Gayle first became affiliated with the RCI as a student at GSW when she was selected as the RCI Governor’s Intern in 1989. She supported and participated in the original caregiver needs assessment. Her call to advocacy for victims of domestic violence led her away from RCI and Americus in 1991. Gayle established a 22 county direct service project for Liberty House in Albany and then led the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force to provide award winning services for victims in Jacksonville Florida.

In 2005, when her mother began facing health challenges, Gayle left her position as Chief of Victim Services for the City of Jacksonville Florida and returned to her home in Parrott, Georgia. Gayle often told her friends and family that she intended to come back home and go back to work with RCI. In 2007, this prediction became reality when she was hired to lead the Caregiver Support Center there. She later became the Director of Community Initiatives where she led multiple statewide projects implementing evidence-based caregiver supports in partnership with the Georgia Division on Aging Services and the Area Agencies for Aging. Through these projects, Gayle built a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with the Administration on Community Living (ACL). Since her first project funded by ACL in 2008, RCI has enjoyed ongoing funding supporting programs such as REACH II, New York University Caregiver Initiative, and Benjamin Rose Institute’s Care Consultation. Gayle co-authored both the RCI REACH Implementation Guide and the NYUCI Implementation Guide which are recognized as essential tools for the dissemination of these programs across the country and even internationally.

In 2013, Gayle was selected as the Director of the RCI Training Center for Excellence. In this role, Gayle has worked with her team to revise all training modules and training delivery to include best practices in adult learning. She sought and received funding to launch a national dissemination of the RCI REACH program (19 sites continue to provide the program), develop the Dealing with Dementia Guide (DWD) and training program, and the translation of the DWD Guide for Spanish speaking caregivers. Gayle’s experience of caring for her mother with vascular dementia has ignited in her a life’s mission. This mission is to provide the best and most comprehensive support possible to family dementia caregivers. Through the DWD project, Gayle is realizing this mission.

Tell us about the support the nominee provides. What makes it innovative? How has the support made caregiving easier or better?
The Dealing with Dementia Program is an evidence informed educational support program for caregivers of people living with dementia. The program includes:
1. A four hour workshop in a classroom setting for either family or professional caregivers of people living with dementia.
2. The Dealing with Dementia Guide, a 360 page comprehensive manual for dementia caregivers.
3. An overview of the guide and how to find the information needed when it is needed.
4. Highlights of topics such as insights into the caregiving experience, easily understandable explanation of dementia, best practices in caregiving, problem solving around dementia behaviors, and tips for caregivers to find time for self-care and stress management.

The guides and the workshops are available in English and Spanish. What truly makes the DWD program innovative is that the manual is written in language that anyone can understand, and it contains concrete examples of strategies to try when providing care to an individual with dementia. Although a great resource for any caregiver, the program specifically targets home health, nursing home, and direct care workers who often receive no formal training in working with those with dementia. Having such a comprehensive guide available so that specific problem behaviors or challenging caregiver issues can be readily looked up is extremely valuable to those who need quick answers and solutions.

How does the nominee inspire others?
Gayle decided to develop the Dealing with Dementia Guide (DWD) and training program based on her experience with constant turnover of home aides when she was caring for her mother with vascular dementia and holding down her job at the RCI at the same time. The aides had little to no training in working with people with dementia, and due to not understanding the behavior issues that come with this illness, kept quitting their jobs. They just did not understand why Gayle's mother was acting the way she was. Both Gayle and her mother were suffering constant stress due to not having assistance from properly trained or readily available caregivers. Gayle brings her personal stories into the training she provides to make it real for those attending. She is able to answer their questions professionally while providing understanding and empathy to those in the caregiving role. Gayle's love and compassion for all people makes her a wonderful trainer and source of support for others.

Please provide testimonials of family caregivers or former family caregivers who benefit from this support.
The following testimonials come from caregivers who have attended Gayle's DWD training program:
1. "Gayle is a treasure, her insights and ability to translate them so others can benefit is awesome. She has a collegial style which makes her very approachable."
2. "I truly appreciated her raw honesty as a caregiver."
3. "Gayle is professional yet personal/friendly - spoke from the heart - she obviously gets how devastating - yet rewarding - caregiving can be."
4. "The training was very personal, and I believe that the great positive vibes and chemistry with the group helped to establish great rapport from the beginning."

On a personal level, I worked with Gayle at the RCI when my family was dealing with my father's long journey through Alzheimer's disease. Gayle was a daily source of support and compassion to me and is truly one of the most caring and loving people I have ever met. Gayle never seeks accolades for what she does, she is a humble servant. Nominating her for this award is my way of thanking her for all that she has provided to me and hundreds of other caregivers throughout the country.

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