In the unassuming light of an early Tuesday morning, Cheryl is drawing a bath. After the bath she will brush hair, pick out clothes, and make breakfast. However, this everyday routine isn’t being done for Cheryl- it’s for a Family Lifeline home care client. As a Family Lifeline care provider, Cheryl, like her colleagues, performs vital and personal tasks for people in their homes every day of every week. Cheryl is not alone. She is part of a growing workforce all across the Richmond region, Virginia, and the nation- a workforce whose labors are physical, relational, and necessary to maintaining the health of multiple generations and critical to economic growth. Direct care providers comprise 30% of the US health care workforce. In Virginia, they are 94% female, 59% people of color and 27% are 50+. Despite the impact of direct care providers on families, households, and the economy, few people really understand the role. “People don’t know what we do, and it’s important,” says Cheryl. “We get to know people. We listen; we care. Sometimes, we are the only ones they have.” Their work is rarely highlighted; their stories, rarely told. Until now.
To help upraise these stories, Gigi Amateau and Penelope Carrington will use their shared gift for storytelling, one with words and the other through photographs as part of the HEArts Project funded through a Richmond Memorial Health Foundation grant. This unique partnership offers the perfect channel to lift the voice of Cheryl and eight other women working for Family Lifeline who have been serving others for a combined total of 174 years. Their stories of beauty and courage, adversity, and triumph. Most of all, these stories of resilience are theirs, and this project is for them. Led by Family Lifeline staff member Allison Watkins, each time the group gathers, they visit with a community leader and discuss health equity issues, and they participate in wellness and narrative practices focusing on their own wellbeing. This photo-to-narrative project gives us an opportunity to celebrate nine amazing women and the incredible work they do every day. On December 5th, their portraits were revealed to the community through the HEArts Project on display at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. For nine women so devoted to others, it is past time to share their stories. But this is only the start. The conversation will continue through a traveling art exhibit and a website that aims to engage a broader community conversation around issues of equity and care. In the meantime, each woman will continue to serve the community in others’ homes, and thanks to their work with each other and with Gigi and Penelope, the light will now shine on them.