NP woman creates community for military caregivers

NP woman creates community for military caregivers

Consuelo Bulawan-Jessop, of North Providence, front row, second from right, has used her platform as 2019 Dole Caregiver Fellow to start a 12-week program for local veteran caregivers. Pictured are, in front row, Kim Hunt and Jamie Deligore of Underground Yoga, Bulawan-Jessop, and caregiver Jennifer Garafano of Providence; and in rear, Adrienne Hazard of Narragansett, a caregiver for her retired Marine father; Dani Adams of Attleboro, Mass., who cares for an injured U.S. Army soldier; and Jen Costanza of Rooted Life. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – For Consuelo Bulawan-Jessop, of North Providence, being a Dole Fellow is about helping veteran caregivers like herself by creating a community of support for the local “hidden heroes.”

Bulawan-Jessop was selected in 2018 as Rhode Island’s first Dole Caregiver Fellow through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which works to empower and advocate for the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.

When Bulawan-Jessop first left her hairdressing career in 2016 to care for her veteran husband Chris on a full-time basis, she said she hardly considered herself a “military caregiver.”

“So much has changed since then,” she said. “The career I left behind is completely behind, and I’m looking forward to where my alumni status as a fellow will bring me.”

At the start of her path, Bulawan-Jessop said she felt burned-out with nowhere to turn for help. After being selected as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she was given the extra support and resources she needed to care for Chris without forgetting to care for herself.

Now, she’s paying it forward to other “hidden heroes” in Rhode Island, using her fellowship to create a 12-week program based in North Providence specifically for military caregivers.

Her platform is wellness.

“I want them to be able to care for themselves,” she said. “... It’s so important for their ability to care for their service member.”

Overall, Bulawan-Jessop said she is hoping the program will help participants stave off caregiver burnout. She said she’s looking forward to the growth of camaraderie among the program’s participants.

The women in the program, all local military caregivers, will work with various professionals to improve their overall well-being. Bulawan-Jessop said it goes back to the old adage that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Last Thursday evening, they met at the Meehan Overlook at Gov. Notte Park in North Providence, where they were introduced to several Rhode Islanders who have stepped up to aid the program.

Kim Hunt and Jamie Deligore, of Underground Yoga in Glocester, led a private yoga session for participants. Both women have several veteran family members, including Hunt’s son, who serves in the U.S. National Guard.

Hunt said everyone, especially caregivers, “needs to take time for themselves.”

“People in general need to realize that it’s not a selfish thing to do,” she said. “We can be so busy taking care of others that it can be really difficult to find time to care for ourselves. I want to take this opportunity to let them know that self-care is okay, and give them the tools to help.”

Other community partners include Lynne Bryan-Phipps of the Beachwood Center for Well-being in Charlestown, who will introduce the women to integrative equine therapy.

Bryan-Phipps said the center helps people from all walks of life, including veterans, their children, and their caregivers.

Bulawan-Jessop said equine therapy “really heals from the inside out.”

Using measurable data and carefully selected therapy horses, Bryan-Phipps said the center provides “some deep therapeutic work, with horses adding a number of dimensions to that, which makes it faster and easier, creating a safe space for people to heal.”

The group will also be working with Jen Costanza of Rooted Life, a healthy living blog, who will offer cooking classes and nutrition education focused on plant-based eating. She’s hoping that the participants are able to incorporate healthier meals into their cooking for themselves and their families.

“Like everyone here, I overall want to promote the idea that it’s OK to take time for yourself,” she said.

Bulawan-Jessop has provided each person in the program with a binder of helpful resources and tools for self-care, which she plans to add to during each session.

“At the end of this event, they’ll have their own wellness book so they don’t have to sit on a computer and look for this information,” she said.

Though 2020 has been a difficult year for people due to the challenges of the pandemic, Bulawan-Jessop said she is glad to have committed to the theme of wellness.

“It has been an amazing journey. I’ve stepped into realms I never imagined for myself,” she said of her Dole Fellowship. After two sessions of her program for caregivers, “I already have people saying: thank you, you don’t know how much I needed this.”

There are additional supports available to veteran caregivers through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation at elizabethdolefoundation.org, and through Hidden Heroes on Facebook and hiddenheroes.org.