Probate Court Provides Guardians Support and Resources with "Coffee and Conversation"
By Csaba Sukosd | October 3, 2018
When people hear about guardianship, most are only familiar with an adult taking care of a juvenile or, in fewer cases, an adult legally responsible for an elder. In Montgomery County, the probate court has made it an emphasis to focus on other guardians that many simply don't know exist.
"Coffee and Conversation" is a monthly meeting hosted by the court for guardians of adults who can't take care of themselves. The idea is to share information and resources as well as stories and feelings that many times are suppressed.
"I was really seeing guardians struggle with their role. They were overwhelmed. Many of them were not only guardians for their loved ones. They were parents. They were employees. They were wives, and they just seemed burned out," said Shawnieka Pope, who started the group after being hired by the court in January 2016.
In each session, Pope emphasizes finding the successes in each participant's life. For people who bear a great deal of added responsibility and stress, she tries to help shift their focus and re-frame their awareness.
"I find it important to celebrate them and have them celebrate themselves because it kind of makes them think about some of things that they hadn't noticed or perhaps that they didn't realize was a success," she said.
Positive energy is a big part of the program's message, including the understanding that it's okay for selfless people to be occasionally selfish about their needs.
"You can take on so much and you can put in so much, but if you're not able to release that and just share and be able to express how you're feeling about certain situations, it can be a bit overwhelming," said Ralonda Holt, whose adult son has cerebral palsy.
Using a quote from a picture she owns that reads, "You can't pour from an empty cup," Pope points out the importance of self-care by making individuals mindful about the consequences of stress and not tending to their own health and well-being.
"I validate for them kind of how important it is to be selfish and how it's okay because they're important too," Pope said.
Calling the guidance of the guardianship program her dream job, Pope says she's always looking for those moments in life to connect people. Since many of her guardians end up leading lives isolated from the rest of the world, she's hoping these sessions are therapeutic and allow them to feel supported. Whether the program offers the chance to admit long-felt guilt in a non-judgmental environment about their circumstances, suggest how to deal with difficult situations, or reassure one another that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, the objective is to help each guardian in any way possible because the better condition they're in, the better care they can provide to their loved ones. Understandably, the discussions can produce a spectrum of emotions. According to Pope, that's what makes it special.
"There have been tears. There's always a lot of laughter. It's just, magic happens there."