Meet Our Director of Community Growth

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Meet Our Director of Community Growth

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Read our interview with Caregiving.com Director of Community Growth, Christina Keys.

Caregiving.com: Tell us about your background and early career path. What drew you to work in the caregiving space?

Christina: I worked in retail and events and photography management from the time I was 18 to 25 years old. At 25, I started my career in the tech space doing B2B sales and account management. On March 16, 2013 at 3:42 p.m. my mother had a life-changing stroke, and I became her primary caregiver. I tried to hold on to my tech career from 2013 to 2017 working many days at my mother's bedside when she was in the hospital. In February 2017, I had to say goodbye to the career I had worked to excel in for over 20 years. A Monday through Friday, eight-to-five job with two weeks of vacation and five sick days a year just didn't work for me as a primary family caregiver. When I had to find a new career, I was drawn to the senior and retirement industry so I could have more flexibility in my schedule. I also hoped to learn some new things that would help me care for my mother. What I learned changed my whole life. My caregiver story resulted in discovering my life's mission. 

Caregiving.com: What inspired you to become the Director of Community Growth? Why do caregivers need a resource like Caregiving.com today? 

Christina: Four years into caring for my mother — trying to do it alone with nothing more then the lists I received from the hospitals and doctors — I was emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, and financially bankrupt. I had gone to an appointment in 2017 where the doctor told me my body was literally shutting down from the stress of trying to care for my mother all alone and with limited knowledge of the resources available to me. I was sleeping maybe five to ten hours a week, had gained over 100 pounds, and experienced several health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, and some other complications. My body was giving up and, frankly, so was I. I had to make a choice: accept that I only had a short time to live and use it to make arrangements for who would care for my mother after I passed or change my life and try to reverse what caring for my mother had done to my body.

I chose to live. I knew that if I would have had knowledge of all the wonderful resources that are actually in every community, I wouldn't have had a near-death experience. Sadly, this isn't just my story. This is the story of thousands of caregivers out there. Almost 40 percent of caregivers pass from the stress of caregiving before the person they are caring for, 65 percent of caregivers over 70 pass before their loved one, and up to 35 percent of caregivers pass within five years of their loved one passing because their bodies just don't recover from the stress they went through. It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to do it alone. 

I found a career as a sales and marketing manager in the senior and retirement industry. My job was to build strong referral partner relationships. Much of my job involved being in the community where I found ALL the resources I never knew existed for caregivers and seniors. They were never on the lists that the hospitals and doctor's offices provided. I started pulling together experts to do free educational classes for caregivers. We were hosting four to six a month. I then started an annual senior and family caregiver resource fair. Everything was growing so fast because there was such a need, so I decided to start a non-profit to support local caregivers. Loving Them Forward is a hyper-local non-profit that brings together well over 100 businesses and organizations to help family, private, and professional caregivers that care for seniors and loved ones with special needs. We offer support, education, resources, a hotline, and caregiver appreciation events in Clark County, Washington. I work with various organizations and speak publicly about the caregiver journey and what it's really like when caregivers try to do it alone. I know building a community that recognizes and supports caregivers with the resources and information they need is the key to saving the lives of caregivers. Bringing communities together to create positive changes in a family member's care journey is not only my passion but a mission I share with Caregiving.com.

Caregiving.com: Was there a particular event or experience that led to your interest working in this industry?

Christina: When my mother had her stroke, they gave her one percent chance to live for the first 30 days. She was in the ICU for 30 days then in the hospital and rehab for five months. I lived out of a suitcase by her side the whole time. Despite being surrounded by doctors, nurses, case managers, and chaplains, few offered meaningful advice on solo caregiving. The closest thing I had to a mentor was a man in a brown sweater I encountered during my mom's hospital stay who instructed me to sign a power of attorney. I had no idea what that meant. He told me it was important to have in place so I could make medical decisions for my mother while she couldn't talk. I never saw him after that. I often thought: how is it that I am surrounded by health care experts 24/7 and not one person ever offered guidance on how to find resources and information in my community and deal with the grief and stress that comes with caring for a loved one. It was all so confusing — the emotions, the learning curve, the terminology. When Mom came home from the hospital and I became her nurse, her doctor, her counselor, her physical therapist, her nutritionist, and her financial manager — all with no training — I felt like I was building the plane while I was flying it with no safety equipment or tools, and I WAS TERRIFIED OF HEIGHTS. The health care professionals didn't even wish me good luck as I wheeled mom out of the hospital. If I could save even one caregiver from having a “man in the brown sweater” experience, it will all be worth it. 

Caregiving.com: Thinking of some of the evolving challenges caregivers face today, how will Caregiving.com help address them? 

Christina: We are going beyond traditional lists of resources or articles about caregiving. We are building local caregiver communities in multiple cities in each state in the U.S. and Canada. Help for caregivers has traditionally been spread out across multiple platforms. Each city will have a family caregiver who serves as a Caregiving.com Champion bringing caregivers and community resources together. From pet care to in-home care to legal services and anything in between, Caregiving.com will be the single location caregivers can come to find everything they need. Our robust content offering also includes expertly-sourced articles, podcasts, forums, caregiver stories, and information to help deal with the stress and emotional challenges that come with caregiving. We are educating communities and health care professionals that behind every senior and family member with special needs is a caregiver. It's time caregivers go from being invisible heroes to champions, and we empower them to do that right in their hometowns.

Caregiving.com: What is your vision for our website and community now and in the future?

Christina: I see a future where we no longer wish for change or wait for our broken health care system to be fixed or for the government to finally step up and help. I see our organization partnering with caregivers all across the U.S. to be the change that we've all talked about and wished for.

Caregiving.com: Is there anything else about you that you’d like the Caregiving.com community and readers to know?

Christina: Caregivers: you are not alone. We see you, we hear you, we appreciate you, and we are going to walk hand-and-hand with you to bring caregivers out of the shadows and into the light where your voice and your journey matters. We aim to be the pathway for positive changes for caregivers now and in the future.

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