Caregivers, it’s important to take a minute to care for yourself.

This was the message touted at the third annual Caregiver’s Conference this year, held for the first time ever in New Braunfels. Put together by the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the free conference hosted about a hundred caregivers and related professionals.

Nancy Gawlik, director of senior services for San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said the Lighthouse chose New Braunfels because it has had a presence here over the past 15 years that is only growing as the population grows. 

“As New Braunfels grows, we and looking to grow our presence here,” Gawlik said. “Especially to seniors, and there is a great need for senior caretakers here.”

Lighthouse hopes to get out the word about its services to all counties surrounding San Antonio, said Shirlee Crandall, conference coordinator and independent living skills trainer with The San Antonio Lighthouse. 

“Our first conference was in Kerrville, and then last year’s was in Boerne,” Crandall said. “We hope folks here today take away that it’s okay to take time to care for themselves — caretakers often poor so much into the people they help they forget to care for themselves.”

The conference opened with keynote speaker, laughter coach Dawn Thurmond. Thurmond spoke about her relationship with her own son, Zachary Thurmond who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. 

“A lesson I learned from Zach is that it’s important to shift perception,” Thurmond said. “I was trying to create happy moments but I wasn’t looking at how moments were already good.”

It’s important for caretakers to take moments to appreciate the little things in their life, Thurmond said. 

“Everything bad is temporary,” Thurmond said. “Think about the hardest thing you’ve overcome, and where you are now. Think about how you could be tomorrow.”

Thurmond said a big lesson she took from her son’s life is also looking at the “cans” of life rather than the “can’t’s.” 

“He one time … climbed up to get his Gameboy from above the fridge, and my friend asked, ‘How’d he do that?’” Thurmond said. “I answered, ‘I don’t think he knows he shouldn’t be able to.’”

Zachary, 20, will soon be moved into a group home, which will change life a lot, Thurmond said.

“It’s important to take joy in the moments you can,” Thurmond said. “We must choose to believe our reality is good.”

When asked how she stays positive in the face of caring for Zachary, Thurmond said she learned how smiling changes everything.

“Zach is sensitive to negative energy,” Thurmond said. “I think our energy is contagious, and as caretakers it’s important to find joy.”

The conference took place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the McKenna Events Center. 

For more information about The San Antonio Lighthouse, and resources for caregivers, visit https://www.salighthouse.org or call 210-533-5195.

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