Featuring: Ashley Crawley, Caregiver, Focus Healthcare Solutions

About 45 minutes east of Cameron, MO, is the small town of Chillicote, famously known since 1928 as the home of sliced bread! More importantly, it is also the home of Camp Rainbow – a three-day summer camp that provides people with intellectual and physical disabilities a fun, safe and affordable camp experience. The camp provides a loving and supportive environment so campers can take part in a range of activities: ball games, swimming and water sports, arts and crafts, dances and nightly entertainment. Camp Rainbow is able to provide a safe and fun experience because it has tremendous support from youth and adult volunteers.

Ashley Crawley was 13-years-old living in Cameron when an announcement came over the middle school intercom. Camp Rainbow was looking for young volunteers. Ashley “always had a heart for doing stuff like this” so she immediately applied to be a camp counselor. She had worked several summers with campers of varying abilities and, in doing so, discovered her calling. That’s when she knew she wanted to take care of people.

After graduating, Ashley began working full time as a care support professional, caring for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities or illnesses—helping them complete basic housekeeping tasks, taking them to appointments and social outings, and keeping them safe from potential health hazards in their environment. Through this work, Ashley learned how to give the best care. “The biggest thing I learned is that each person is an individual with distinct needs, and you have to change yourself in order to give them the best care,” she explains. “Everyone needs control in their lives, so I change my practice to give clients the independence they need.”

Ashley Crawley (center, holding check) receiving the Ceca Award.

Today, Ashley Crawley is a field staff member with Focus Healthcare Solutions in Kansas City, MO, and her care is a key reason her clients can thrive in their own homes. She currently cares for five different clients. Some she sees every day, and others just once or twice a week. Some just need an extra boost, while others need a lot of attention. But as Ashley notes, “They all need friendship. The moment I come in contact with a client, I strive to make a connection and a lasting impression on them. Each person has a place in my heart, and I care for them like family. I want them to know I love them no matter what they’ve done in life or what they’ll do in life. So that’s how I get through every day. That’s how I got that great nomination.”

The “great nomination” is one she received for the Ceca Award, where her client’s family member wrote, “Ashley cares for my mom who has dementia, and mom always looks forward to her coming. Ashley interacts with her and keeps her engaged mentally. She has a tender heart and the patience of an angel. Mom is very set in her ways, is a hoarder and can become upset if something is moved or out of place. Ashley can get my mom to do things that I can’t, like allow expired products to be disposed of, and things to be organized. Ashley runs the home as she would her own. Everything is always well taken care of, and this takes a large burden of off me.”

Ashley knew that this client had previously had several different caregivers and understood that clients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease need consistency. So, the important thing was to engage with her.  “Alzheimer’s patients rarely want to eat,” she explains, “but I noticed that if you eat with them, they’ll eat. So I take food with me, and we sit down and eat together. Some thrive on doing art projects, so I’ll bring arts and crafts supplies picked up at garage sales and do that with them. One gentleman loves magazines, so that’s what I bring him. One woman loves to bake, or rather loves to watch me bake, so that’s what we do. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. It’s the small things, and they mean more than you could possibly imagine.”

As for the hoarding, Ashley is sympathetic. “Many elderly seniors grew up with nothing, so they save everything. The only way to get them to part with belongings is to go through everything with them slowly, one area at a time, and not rush them. If you do more than one day a week, it overwhelms them.  Keep a good pace but don’t push them. Remember, they want control.” These are things she’s learned through her practice and through research she’s done to help her adopted son with his own reenactment detachment disorder (RAD). She’s learned how to create a stable, nurturing environment and provide positive caregiver interactions with him and with her clients.

Ashley has a heart of gold, and her mother says it’s always been so. She loves being out in the community—making meals for the homeless, caring for her son, and opening her home to the myriad other children who come to stay with them.

Another comment the family member made in her nomination was that, “Ashley must be recognized by her employer as an employee of professionalism and integrity as they have had her train other Caregivers.” Ashley smiles and admits that two months after she started, Focus began sending staff into the field with her so she could train them. And she gives them the same advice she gives everyone, “Just love them [clients] and give them the independence they want. Being a caregiver is something you are born to do, and once you’ve accepted the responsibility, it’s all sunshine and rainbows!”

Ashley knows she does a good job, but she was amazed when she was honored with the Ceca Award. “I got a call that I was one of the top four people and was blown away. I called my mom and said, ‘I guess I’m a good caregiver – I’m one out of four.’ And Mom said, ’I guarantee you’ll be number one – I know where your heart is, and they see that obviously.’”

“But when they called my name, I was shocked,” Ashley admits. “I don’t do this for recognition. But it was awesome to know that I’m doing a good job. I do this because it’s what I learned and what I know to do, but it came to light that I really do take the extra step. It really does only take 10 minutes to change someone’s life.”

Ashley loves caregiving work, and just wants to care for the people and have an impact on them every single day. She does have a dream that maybe one day she could open a facility for seniors and people with disabilities, in a farm area with animals. “Animals are so therapeutic. Alzheimer’s patients grow more when they have pets. I have pigs and cats and dogs and chickens,” she says, “and I’ve had lots of kids in my life. So when I have those animals and those kids, I work with them with them, teach them how to groom and feed and care for them. I’ve watched it change lives.”

Ashley’s purpose is to “be who I am and care how I care.” And it’s pretty clear that if she ever does get to start her own version of Camp Rainbow, it might just be the greatest thing since sliced bread.