Caregiver travel grants offer respite and adventure to those caring for others.
At 61 years old, Yolanda Sampan accomplished something that her mother had always dreamed of for her daughter: She earned her U.S. citizenship. Sampan knew in that moment last August that she wanted to return to Washington, D.C., to see the cherry blossoms and explore the historic places about which she had learned leading up to her citizenship test.
Between her citizenship class and her role as her mother’s primary caregiver in Chicago, travel hadn’t topped Sampan’s to-do list in recent years. 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 Scholar seeks to recognize that often under-appreciated work through caregiver travel grants. Sampan applied for one of the grants to go back to D.C., describing her caregiving duties over the past two years as well as how the trip would impact her.
Road Scholar saw her hard work and awarded Sampan a six-day guided field trip that will take place in 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.
“She was selected based on her caregiving experience, financial need, and unique reasons for selecting the Road Scholar program,” Simanis says.
This coming spring, Sampan will visit the places she learned about during her citizenship class. More than anything, Sampan says the trip honors her Nanay — the Filipino term for mother — who she says dreamed of her daughter someday becoming an American citizen.
Literacy and citizenship
Sampan was motivated to fill out the application for her travel grant after taking her U.S. citizenship test. Nonprofit organization Literacy Chicago provided the citizenship classes over Zoom, and Sampan attended them twice weekly for three months, determined to fulfill Nanay’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 for a citizenship application 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 Nanay didn’t live to see Sampan become a U.S. citizen. She died in March 2020, two years after her cancer diagnosis.
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 an elderly 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 says she despaired when the cancer returned.
And that is right where Road Scholar provides a different perspective, offering a way 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 hosted by expert faculty in all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Since its founding in 1975, the Boston-based nonprofit, formerly known as Elderhostel, has offered financial assistance for its programs. But 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 that costs no more than $2,000. The grant includes lodging, field trips, lectures, most meals, gratuities, and transportation during the program. Since 2016, about 400 caregivers have received travel grants and attended programs.
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.
Sampan’s husband will join her on the D.C. trip this spring. Together, they will explore the capital city, learning about its iconic memorials and eclectic neighborhoods. They’ll participate in discussions about policy issues, history, and famous figures; visit museums; and go behind the scenes at the Kennedy Center.
Sampan is looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms, a glorious reminder of the promise she made to her mother.