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Pastor creates program aimed to assist caregivers

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

As a full-time caregiver for her mother, Covington single mom Brenda Davis was thankful to find out about a program starting up at Trinity Baptist Church just for people in her situation.

The Center for Caregiver Spirituality is a ministry founded by the Conyers church to help area caregivers grow spiritually and build healthy relationships with other caregivers, as well as the loved ones in their lives.

"I was so grateful for it," Davis said of the center at Trinity. "It is really beneficial. I don't have a normal life and I spend a lot of energy. You need a break, but you feel guilty. With the program, it helps you manage things as you share with people in your situation. I think it's great."

Trinity Baptist Church, located at 301 Honey Creek Road in Conyers, is led by Joe LaGuardia, who became associate pastor in 2003 and was named pastor of the church last year.

The pastor's doctoral work was related to ministry for caregivers with a dissertation titled, "Toward Spiritual Growth: Implementing Spiritual Growth Direction for Caregivers at Trinity Baptist Church," which laid the foundation for the Center for Caregiver Spirituality (CCS).

The pastor said God has called him to this special ministry. As pastor of Trinity, he is with a congregation that has been concerned about and reached out to help caregivers for a number of years. As far back as the mid-1990s, the church was offering informal help to caregivers.

As LaGuardia, who holds degrees from Palm Beach Atlantic University and McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, worked on his doctorate, he had to choose a special project. He chose to create a program for caregivers that began as groups and seminars at the church in 2005.

In 2009, Trinity Baptist began working on a program designed for caregivers which would become CCS in 2010.

LaGuardia said caregivers are those who take care of aging parents, special needs children, ailing spouses and other loved ones. They often have "various burdens, fears and anxieties," he said.

"It's an important ministry," LaGuardia said. "According to statistics, one out of four households has a caregiver ... This is an aging population."

The pastor said as he began looking at what help is available for caregivers, he discovered many books and resources addressing the clinical side of what a caregiver does, but nothing "spoke to the spiritual side," he said.

"There are common threads most caregivers have," he said. "We saw a huge need for caregivers to deal with their relationship with God."

He said caregivers can sometimes feel guilt or resentment or as if they are "spinning their wheels." It became apparent that more help was needed regarding spiritual care for the caregiver.

"We rely heavily on prayer," he said, adding that caregivers also gain support by meeting others in their same situations with whom they build new relationships.

"Our six-week peer support groups and various other programs provide safe atmospheres that value compassion over judgment, active listening over coercive lecturing and a rewarding, hope-filled journey over anxious uncertainty," according to the CCS website.

Participants take part in prayer, meditation and faith-based spiritual exercises; learn more about self-care, self-awareness, reconciliation and peacemaking; and get a break from their normal routines.

The CCS group meets every Thursday at Trinity Baptist at 11 a.m. There is no charge to attend and the program is an inter-faith and inter-denominational ministry.

Realizing the Thursday meeting is not always convenient for caregivers, LaGuardia said free one-on-one spiritual support is also available by calling 770-922-8944 and making an appointment.

A registration form and other information is also available at the CCS website at www.caregiverspirituality.com.

Davis, who is one of the founding members of the CCS group, said she began visiting Trinity Baptist after reading LaGuardia's articles in the Newton Citizen.

"He writes from the heart and I appreciated his writing," she said.

Davis was already caring for her mother when LaGuardia invited her to join the start-up support group program.

"A lot of people feel guilty when they need a break," she said.

Becoming part of CCS has opened doors for Davis to get to know other caregivers and as they meet together, they share a time of meditation and prayer. They also discuss how their week is going and offer feedback to one another.

When time permits, they enjoy a lunch fellowship.

"(CCS) gives people a sense of refuge and direction and some guidance as to where God is working in their lives," LaGuardia said. "That's what we hope to provide."

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.