Travel Granted

Caregiver travel grants offer respite and adventure to those caring for others.

Last May, Yolanda Sampan and her husband headed to Washington, D.C., courtesy of a Road Scholar Caregiver grant. They joined a group of about 20 travelers touring the city, seeing the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Memorial, Library of Congress, National Cathedral, and other sites. 

“Aside from the nice places, we had a lot of good foods,” Sampan says. She even managed to connect with her best friend from their native Philippines. The two hadn’t seen each other for 30 years. 

Yolanda Sampan with her husband in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Yolanda Sampan with her husband in front of the Lincoln Memorial

One morning, the group attended a lecture about the famous cherry blossoms and then went to see the trees. Unfortunately, they had already bloomed for the year. “That was the main reason why I wanted to go to Washington, D.C., to see the cherry blossoms,” Sampan says. “That was my promise to my mom, to take her to Washington, D.C. so that she could see [them]. So I dedicated that trip to my mom.” 

Two years earlier, at 61 years old, Sampan accomplished something that her mother had always dreamed of for her daughter: She earned her U.S. citizenship. Sampan knew in that moment that she wanted to return to Washington, D.C., to explore the historic places about which she had learned leading up to her citizenship test.

Travel hadn’t topped Sampan’s to-do list in recent years, between her citizenship class and her role as her mother’s primary caregiver in Chicago. She is one of 53 million people in the U.S. who provide unpaid care, with 1 in 5 caring for an adult with health or functional needs, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Nonprofit travel organization Road ScholarRoad Scholar seeks to recognize that often under-appreciated work through caregiver travel grants. Sampan applied for one of the grants to go to D.C., describing her caregiving duties over the past two years as well as how the trip would impact her.

Road Scholar awarded Sampan a six-day guided field trip for spring 2023. About 250 people applied for Road Scholar’s financial programs each year prior to the pandemic, and the organization was able to offer awards to all eligible applicants, according to Ann Simanis, assistant vice president of advancement and engagement with Road Scholar.

Literacy and citizenship

In working toward her citizenship, Sampan took classes over Zoom through the nonprofit Literacy Chicago. Sampan attended them twice weekly for three months, determined to fulfill her mother’s wish.

Literacy Chicago’s 12-week citizenship program is free. The course covers civics, vocabulary, reading, writing, and conversation — everything an aspiring citizen needs to know to apply and pass the U.S. government’s oral test.

“They need to know U.S. history, the various levels of government, and what they mean,” says Rich Dominguez, executive director of Literacy Chicago. “We prepare them to answer those questions.”

Classes are designed to be interactive and fun, Dominguez says. “Everyone who has gone through the program has enjoyed the experience and passed their citizenship test.” Sampan was one of them, though her Nanay — the Filipino term for mother — didn’t live to see Sampan become a U.S. citizen. She died in March 2020, two years after being diagnosed with cancer.

A well-earned adventure

During those two years, Sampan shifted her own life dramatically to make herself available to Nanay.

Shortly after Nanay was diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer in 2018, Sampan stepped up as her unpaid caregiver. She and her sister took turns accompanying Nanay to radiation and chemotherapy treatments while juggling demanding work schedules.

When Nanay was hospitalized for dehydration, her doctor recommended the family hire a caregiver. That’s when Sampan, a certified nursing assistant and caregiver at the time to a woman with dementia, quit her paying job to take care of Nanay full-time. Following the doctor’s guidance, she applied for financial assistance from a Catholic charity.

Sampan experienced the ups and downs of caregiving. She saw her mom through cancer treatments, reveled in the short time she was in remission, and despaired when the cancer returned.

And that is where Road Scholar provides a different perspective, offering an avenue for caregivers to look beyond those difficult experiences.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to step outside of their daily responsibilities and find respite, rejuvenation, and the ability to interact with peers and address that isolation,” Simanis says. 

“For caregivers who have completed their caregiving journey, it’s a way to envision that next step in their lives.”

Road Scholar offers thousands of educational adventures for older adults. Since its founding in 1975, the Boston-based nonprofit, formerly known as Elderhostel, has offered financial assistance for its programs. The caregiver travel grants started within the past decade.

“About 10 years ago we noticed a pattern of people who didn’t necessarily have the low household income, yet were gravely affected financially by the implications of family caregiving — a lot of older adults who had to retire early or greatly reduce employment to take care of a loved one. We identified a need unique to unpaid family caregivers,” Simanis says.

To meet that need, Road Scholar launched the Caregiver Travel Grant program in 2016. It awards caregivers up to $1,500 toward tuition for a Road Scholar program in the U.S. or Canada. Since 2016, about 400 caregivers have received travel grants.

Scholarships generally go to households that make less than 80% of the median household income for a state, Simanis says.

Caregivers can choose from more than 150 programs, in archaeology, biology, history, and more. Many caregivers choose active outdoor programs, learning about the geology and biology of a particular area as they hike, bike, or walk through it. Getting in shape for the program takes travelers out of their daily caregiving routine, and oftentimes, they keep up the activity after the trip, Simanis says.

For Sampan, even though she missed the cherry blossoms, she enjoyed the journey to D.C. Her favorite part, she says, was seeing the Capitol Building. “I got the chance to see inside the Capitol Building. For me, it was really nice. I love it, especially the dome,” she says. “I got the chance to explore [it].” 

Sampan is now back at work as a caregiver in Chicago. She looks back at the time she spent caring for her mother as special, and her efforts rewarded her with an unforgettable trip to her adopted country’s capitol. 

Above photo: Yolanda Sampan pictured front row center. Courtesy of Road Scholar


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