My name is Teri Swezey. I am a 58-year-old public health researcher who lives in Chapel Hill, NC. My mother, Mary, had late stage dementia. Sharing the last few years of her life as her caregiver inspired me to walk across the US in 2012 to raise donations and awareness on behalf of vulnerable elderly and their caregivers. I believe that, by raising awareness, many others who share the same struggles mom and I went through, will find relief and support along their own journeys with aging.
Mom’s soaring swan dive is the inspiration for the name and logo of the private non-profit organization that I formed called Seniors Obtaining Assistance and Resources, Inc. SOAR’s mission is to help meet the needs of vulnerable elderly and caregivers. Members of the non-profit’s Board are leaders in the fields of aging, caregiving, and public health.
The walk across the US is called SOAR Feat 2012. I began the 3,039-mile journey across 12 states in Wrightsville Beach, NC on April 1, 2012 and will end it about 6-7 months later in
Cambria, CA. I recently started riding my bicycle along the SOAR Feat 2012 route, so the walk has been transformed into a walk n roll. This gives me more time to interview caregivers, elderly, and service providers about the challenges they are facing in today’s tough financial times. My mission is to reveal unrecognized needs in rural America by giving voice to those who feel isolated and unheard, and to promote avenues that meet those needs.
Funds raised during the SOAR Feat 2012 walk will be used to tell the unheard stories of caregivers and their loved ones in rural America and to cover some of the costs of the walk. Additionally, many elderly struggle with paying for prescriptions and food, and caregivers are often unable to have a break from their caregiving responsibilities. These themes came up in discussions with seniors, caregivers, and service providers while I was caring for mom. They have been reinforced in discussions with people during the SOAR Feat 2012 walk n roll. SOAR’s ultimate goal is thus to provide much-needed assistance for prescription co-pays, low-income meal programs, and relief services for caregivers.
SOAR FEAT 2012 UPDATE: After walking and riding 2,255 miles, at the end of September I came to an unexpected turn in the road and had to stop the SOAR Feat 2012 walk n roll just east of Flagstaff, AZ. I was only about 800 miles from Cambria, but unfortunately, the friend who was supporting me was unable to continue as my sag wagon driver. As creative as I am, I couldn’t figure out a way to finish the walk n roll solo, given time and resource constraints. Stopping the walk n roll was a gut wrenching decision. I still have very mixed feelings about cutting it short, including a sense of sadness that I was unable to make it to Cambria–especially since I was so close to that goal. In the bigger picture, however, the walk n roll was not just about finishing all 3,039 miles; it was also about raising awareness about caregivers and their loved ones. In that regard, the walk n roll was a big success. We had great media coverage and nearly everyone I met had a story to share about caregiving.
Caregivers are very often a hidden population and my hope is to be able to tell the stories that caregivers shared with me during the walk n roll. The next steps I’ll be taking on behalf of SOAR are compiling all those stories on this website (and maybe in a book about the walk n roll) and reorienting the mission of SOAR toward one of the most pressing needs that stood out during conversations with caregivers and service providers–respite (or relief) services for caregivers.
I could not have made it (almost) across country without the support and encouragement of my friends and family, along with new friends I met on the road and via Facebook. Huge thanks to all of you for helping me to put one foot in front of the other and continue onward. Your comments in response to the unexpected turn in the road helped me to reorient my perspective toward understanding that the walk was a success even though I didn’t reach Cambria.
That said, I hope to finish those last ~800 miles from Flagstaff, AZ to Cambria, CA by my 60th birthday and am brewing the idea of another SOAR-led awareness and fundraising effort that may be dubbed “Riding for Respite.” Please stay tuned and thank you for your ongoing support of SOAR.