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ACTION for Unity: Lunch & Learn with Leeza’s Care Connection

We must educate our students to participate.  For students to be most effective in civic engagement, they must first learn about the issues from the experts. Teens can then plan effectively to address real-world problems facing our communities.  ACTION uses our combined lunch and homeroom hour for Lunch & Learn sessions with career mentors.  We tried this “power hour” model last year when Karen Jackson (Clemson Extension) and Chanda Cooper (Richland Soil & Water Conservation District – SC) worked with our Unified Partners Team to plan and design a bioswale for our outdoor classroom.  The benefits of Lunch & Learns are four-fold. First, you widen the student’s knowledge-base by bringing in experts from various fields. Secondly, you identify the problem and decide on a plan of action. Thirdly, you build relationships among the team during planning meetings which allow for active participation. The idea is for the mentor to work alongside the teens during these sessions of inquiry and discovery. Finally, the knowledge and unity developed among team members results in a deeper level of commitment and a more effective project outcome.

This year, we will incorporate lunch sessions with all ACTION Teams. Kena Dill, the program director of Leeza’s Care Connection, spoke at a Lunch and Learn for our ACTION Care Team yesterday. Ms. Dill shared about the challenges that primary caretakers face when caring for family members suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other health issues such as Parkinson’s. Students connected their own experiences to the facts they were learning. When Kena shared her personal story, students developed deeper empathy.  After a mini-lesson, students broke into groups to brainstorm. Kena and I asked the teens to write down ways in which they could use their talents to support caretakers. One group planned ways to support the caretakers during the holidays recognizing that this can be a more stressful time for families. Another group thought of ways to use their music talents to support the caretakers. Music therapy is an evidence-based practice.  A third group had a great idea about creating photo stories using the caretakers’ old family pictures. The students will use technology to add music and/or narration to accompany the slideshow. We had so much fun planning outreach activities to support our local caretakers. I love our students’ passion and dedication towards civic engagement.

Lunch & Learn sessions provide a time for students to search for solutions with the aid of an expert. Our teens are not given the answer, but the opportunity to explore possibilities before deciding on a course of action. One student left yesterday’s planning session and told her science teacher, “I am really excited, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. It seems like a lot.”  Her teacher shared that he also feels this way when first faced with a problem. You can’t do it all at once. It is important to take things one step at a time. Lunch & Learns are the first step in the team process.


by Lori Wenzinger, M. Ed (original post here)


Carlos “Pops” Gibbons Named Poet of the Year

The Irmo News: Dr. Carlos W. Gibbons has been awarded the 2016 Poet of the Year Award by the PoetryFest Foundation. Gibbons has a poem in the 2016 PoetryFest Publication, “On the Wings of Angels,” and has been cited as one of PoetryFest’s brightest poetry stars.

Gibbons is a native of Irmo and has frequently had poems printed in the New Irmo News. He is also the father of Leeza Gibbons, who has recently opened the Leeza Care Connection Center on St. Andrews Road. The center is designed to offer support and re-energize caregivers who tend to a relative or a loved one.

Leeza proudly says, “My dad is the best example I know of continuing to grow and learn and contribute. At 87 years old he has just been named Poet of The Year!  We are so proud of Pops who has compiled several editions of “Pops Poetry” and often shares with caregivers, the healing properties of the written word at Leeza’s Care Connection.”

Dr. Oz: Leeza Reports on Latest Alzheimer’s Prevention


Today, DR. OZ is cutting your Alzheimer’s risk because with more research, breakthroughs and potential cures on the horizon than ever before, the time to take action is now. On the show, we have experts on the forefront of Alzheimer’s prevention and research. We’ve got prevention specialist Dr. Richard Isaacson, core team member expert and brain health researcher Max Lugavere, senior medical director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Dr. Heather Snyder, and Alzheimer’s crusader and reporter Leeza Gibbons.

On why this investigation hit home for her, Gibbons says: “You know, I’ve been a reporter all my life and I’ve reported on all kinds of things, from big stars and big moments and hardened criminals, you name it. This is really different. This is not just another story. It’s something much deeper. It’s personal and it really hits home. My mom died of this disease, 2008, after ten years being in the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease.”

On how a new Alzheimer’s prevention test affected her, Gibbons says: “I got to tell you, this was a holy cow moment for me and for all of us who care about this disease. That’s everybody, because think about what this means, that in real time, you can look at those behavior modifications and see is it reducing the plaques. So I think it’s a potential game-changer.”

On why early Alzheimer’s prevention is important to her, Gibbon states: “That really hit me because when my mother was diagnosed, we couldn’t have imagined a day there would be communities of people who were having this test. I wish that we had had this earlier, but we have it now. Your mom is very proud of you.”

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Television

Burden or Blessing? That depends on YOU!


Caregiving is not for sissies. It can be as heartbreaking as it is rewarding. It is demanding and constantly changing and it requires a deep well of patience, understanding, and courage.

So during this holiday season of Giving Thanks, will you choose to look at your situation as a burden or as a blessing? Choose wisely!

A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center (2014) found that 83 percent of caregivers viewed it (caregiving) as being a positive experience. Many family caregivers report positive experiences from caregiving, including a sense of giving back to someone who has cared for them, the satisfaction of knowing that their loved one is getting excellent care, personal growth and increased meaning and purpose in one’s life. Also, caregivers who perceive more benefits from caregiving report lower levels of depression. (Haley, et al, 2003)

Becoming grateful and being more thankful can help build resiliency and lift us up.

Attitude of Gratitude – Some Tips:

Gratitude Journal/List – At the end of each day spend 10 minutes reflecting back on something good that happened that day. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll get to write down a few “some-things” if it was a good day.

Exhale – Deep breathing allows for a nice long exhale. Deep breathing helps manage stress and anxiety and evidence suggests it lowers blood pressure and heart rate. By voluntarily changing the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body’s respiratory system to the brain.( Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D.)

Fake It til’ You Make It – Smile, lift your head up, draw your shoulders back, and PRACTICE feeling good, even though you may not be there just yet. People who are grateful also use specific language, they use words of encouragement, of how they wish to feel to describe their situation. Try it!

Focus – Become aware of how you feel – without judging how you feel. Acknowledge for yourself what you are feeling, because the good and the bad are all a part of the journey. After some time, especially after adopting some of these tips into your routine, look back and see how far you’ve come.


Stressed, Depressed, Depleted and Overwhelmed – Sound familiar?

It might if you are one of the millions out there providing care to someone else.

November is National Family Caregivers Month. . . A time to recognize and honor those heroic souls in our community who STAND up, and SHOW up every day, by giving their time, energy and heart to care for a family member, neighbor or friend who is ill. Strong, devoted, determined, people who often sacrifice their own needs for others.

“Respite: Care for the Caregivers” is this year’s theme. So what is Respite and why does it matter? It’s a term that really means just getting a break from Care-giving, finding a bit of time to relax, catch your breath, and take a break from caregiving. Care-Giving is a demanding job so it is normal to need a break and so vitally important when providing care or managing the care of someone you love.

Caregiving can take up to 10 years off of a caregiver’s life. Sleep deprivation, headaches, higher levels of stress and depression can become a big part of Caregiving, but it doesn’t have to.

If you are a caregiver remember to be a “Selfish Caregiver” – Selfish enough to replenish your energy and spirit so you can do a better job caring for the person you love. Consider these tips to rejuvenate:

Get Moving: Take a walk around the block, a walk in nature (the local park is good!), take in an exercise class you enjoy or a quick work-out at the gym.

Get Out: When someone offers to sit with your loved one, if even for just 30 minutes Get OUT of the house. Meet a friend for a cup of coffee, sit on the phone,

Get Pampered: Take a bubble bath, get a manicure, ask your hubby for a massage, indulge in reading your favorite book.

Get Help: Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your family members and friends to be mind readers and understand what’s going on and would help. Only you know, so speak up.

Say “YES”: When family, friends, or someone from work or your church offers to pitch in – Say YES. From sitting with your loved one while you run a few errands, to cooking meals or picking something up a few things at the supermarket for you – Say YES.

HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act needs approval from Congress: Guest commentary


Susan Ownbey-Menaker and her sister, Maggie, with their smiling mother, before Alzheimer’s, left; and the week before their mother died, in February 2014. (Courtesy photo)

Imagine your dearest loved one — your spouse, parent, partner or child — looking at you and saying they don’t know you. That indescribable heartbreak is something the family members of an estimated 5.3 million American’s — half a million in California alone — don’t have to imagine, they live it daily with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

I am one of those family members. Alzheimer’s struck my Mom, Mother-in-law, and Uncle.

Years ago my mom, Eleanor, was telling me about Susie. I am Susie. At first I thought she meant to say my sister’s name — as parents often do — but it felt different. I kindly told her, “Mom, I’m Susie.” She looked at me as if I were playing a game and replied, “No, you’re not.” My heart sank. I suppose the look on my face alarmed her as she claimed to just be confused and apologized with embarrassment, hugs and many kisses. I had to stop making excuses for her unusual behavior. We needed help.

When a neurologist told Mom she had Alzheimer’s disease it was harsh and blunt. Mom cried out for dad who had already passed. My sister, Maggie, asked the doctor for guidance and she replied that she had a meeting. We left the office clueless, heartbroken and lost.

On March 24, the HOPE (Health, Outcomes, Planning and Education) for Alzheimer’s Act 2015 was reintroduced to the 114th Congress. Had this pending bipartisan legislation been law it would have benefited us by providing care planning services and support options. This legislation also ensures that a patient is given a proper diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, something only 45 percent of patient’s receive.

Read entire article here


Essential Puree: The A to Z Guidebook for Caregivers

Essential Puree: The A to Z Guidebook for Caregivers, came about because the author’s mother was diagnosed with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulty, as a result of dementia. BOOM! Once the diagnosis was made, the diet was all puree. It was an emergency. The patient had to eat or the patient will die.

This is the book that I wish I had when I embarked upon my caregiving journey. Essential Puree: The A to Z Guidebook presents a system for setup and organization of the puree kitchen: the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer. It tells how to select ingredients for nutritional healing. It tells how to organize a cooking schedule so that one is not chained to the kitchen but a great meal is always on hand. It tells how to cook in batches, label food and store food.

I approached the task as a journalist and interviewed health care professionals of all kinds. All of them recognized the problem. There is nothing out there for helping the caregivers. All of them knew it. I decided to give my mom the best care possible.

I am a lifelong cook with a focus on healthy clean eating. My mother taught me how to cook. All the great dishes she taught me, I now made for her. I researched kitchen appliances that would simplify the tasks. I tried every product on the market and I report my findings in the Guidebook.

Making great pureed food at home turns out to be healthier, cheaper and more delicious than what is commercially available. This is the theory of the great chef, Wolfgang Puck.

I offer time-tested family recipes, classic American comfort food. It is said that any cook needs a repertoire of ten dishes. I give 67 recipes (including variations): appetizers, entrees, salads, desserts and breakfasts and soups. All were selected for quality of puree.

It also is a guide to cooking whole grains and sauces. I include tricks and tips that I discovered along the way.

The Guidebook is for caregivers and family members, but the sauce guide and the principals of getting the smoothest and best puree can be put to good use by the institutional cook. There are no chemicals and no preservatives in the food and the diet conforms to the highest standards of ingredients, a diet recommended by the American Heart Association, low fat, low salt, low sugar, lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain, and if required, gluten free.

The motto of Essential Puree: The A to Z Guidebook is: Life is too precious and far too short to eat boring tasteless food.

I do this work in memory of my mother, that what was of benefit to her mom may help others. I am grateful to the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation for the important work that they do and for recognizing the often overlooked importance of the economics of the kitchen, so profound and so often invisible. I salute the great chef Alice Waters, founding mother of the California food revolution, for her principles of simple food, seasonal eating, and the best of local ingredients.


wolff-554_colorDIANE WOLFF is the author of Tibet Unconquered: An Epic Struggle for Freedom, with an introduction by Robert Thurman. She is also the author of The Blogger of Kashgar, a forthcoming thriller about the Cold War in Asia. She has authored two works about Chinese culture and has worked in cultural diplomacy in China. She has traveled widely in East Asia looking for great stories and great food. Essential Puree: The A to Z Guidebook is her first cookbook, written in memory of her mother. For new recipes, tricks and tips, go to

America’s Family Caregivers Need Assistance

PBS Next Avenue/New America Media, News Analysis, Chris Farrell, Posted: Apr 11, 2015

American families need help. And not because of the widely assumed crisis of values in the home (as opposed to home values), the devolution of social norms or the flight from family we hear so much about these days.

Quite the opposite.

No, by one critical measure, family ties are remarkably strong: Caregiving.

More than 44 million caregivers devote enormous amounts of time and money to helping their aging, frail elders. Probably more than you’d imagine.

True Cost of Family Care

Researchers at Rand Corp., the Santa Monica, Calif. think tank, totted up the cost of “informal” eldercare (unpaid work) using data from the American Time Use Survey.

They also calculated the “opportunity cost” of caregiving — paychecks that could be pocketed if the caregivers were working and not taking elders to the doctor, monitoring their health and helping them with daily activities. Taken altogether, the scholars estimate Americans spend over 30 billion hours a year providing informal elder care at an annual cost of $522 billion.

Let’s put that figure in context. It’s more than all federal spending on Medicare in 2013, which was $492 billion (minus income from premiums and offsetting receipts), according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Here’s another way of putting the caregiving number in perspective. The cost of replacing informal care with skilled nursing professionals would be $642 billion. Unskilled labor paid a minimum wage would total $221 billion.

The Rand study echoes a 2011 MetLife Foundation report whose researchers estimated that the average amount of lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits for caregivers 50 and over was about $303,880.

That’s a hefty number on its own. But the total aggregate loss in wages, pension and Social Security is a stunning number: almost $3 trillion. (Keep these figures in mind the next time you hear a financial planner complain about boomers not saving enough for retirement.)

The ethical and family returns to caregiving are huge. But the personal financial costs are also substantial, growing and — sad to say — ignored.

Howard Gleckman, author of Caring for Our Parents, rightly calls caregivers members of a “silent society,” people who belong to “one of the least exclusive clubs in America.”

The situation is unsustainable. Caregivers and their families need financial support.

To be sure, there are many wonderful support programs around the country, typically a partnership, perhaps with a government agency, nonprofits and foundation money.

The Frayed Safety Net

Still, the broader safety net is full of gaping holes.

Medicare doesn’t pay for most long-term care bills.

Medicaid is the main government safety net, but essentially you have to run out of money to qualify for this means-tested program.

• The private long-term care insurance market once held promise, but it’s shrinking fast. Several brand-name insurers have left the field and the remaining players are raising prices and reducing benefits; prudent reactions to a money-losing business, which has the effect of further shrinking the pool of potential policyholders.

What about Washington D.C.? Legislative paralysis rules (no surprise).

Policymakers haven’t even managed to renew the Older Americans Act, a half-century-old legislation that helps funds a wide array of elderly services, including nutrition and transportation services.

And, as Next Avenue has written, [] the report from the recent bipartisan federal commission on long-term care — a bizarre creation from the fiscal cliff negotiations of 2012 — couldn’t come to agreement on financing long-term care.

What’s Needed Soon

There are no easy answers. The current system is broken. The status quo will deteriorate without action, further draining family finances.

Any reform initiatives will require a stronger private insurance foundation and, at the same time, the creation of a social insurance system to share the costs of catastrophic care situations.

Employers have a role to play, too, by embracing eldercare benefits and flexible workplace policies. The Society of Actuaries in its Land This Plane report calls for a “systematic overhaul” of long-term care financing and does a good job framing the problem and developing the outline for any solution.

The issue of assisting aging parents and relatives isn’t a conservative or a liberal one.

We’re living longer and seniors comprise a larger share of the population, something well worth celebrating. But at some point, most of us will be dealing with elderly parents and relatives. The question isn’t whether reform will come —it will. The only real question is how fast or how slow will change come.

Fast is better.

Chris Farrell wrote this article for the PBS website on aging, Next Avenuewith support from a Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a collaboration of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Silver Century Foundation. Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book, Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life.

New & Noteworthy
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Leeza’s Care Connection, a free resource center for caregivers, will reopen the Michael J. and Mary Meech Mungo home, with an open house on Feb. 19 and a celebration on Feb. 20. The center, which opened in July 2016, was destroyed last May when a tree fell on the
Imagine having to spend your first day on a new job with 47 million people across America watching you. Add in tens of millions more viewing you from countries worldwide, and it would be easy to feel a lot of pressure.  Mark Steines and Leeza Gibbons faced just that dilemma
Many of us know Leeza Gibbons as co-host of Entertainment Tonight—a primetime posting she held for nearly two decades. But Gibbons has also hosted her own daytime talk show, written a New YorkTimes bestseller, and taken home top prize on Celebrity Apprentice after raising more than $700,000 for her non-profit,
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