The centuries-long legacy of black women in Richmond providing in-home care for others reflects both joy and pain.
Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and personal care aides (PCAs) belong to two households - their own and their clients’. On behalf of their families and the families for whom they provide quality care and a peace of mind, CNAs and PCAs give generously of body, mind, and spirit. Above all else, they listen deeply in order to understand their clients’ preferences, values, goals, and dreams. They multi-task to navigate a fragmented health and human services system - coordinating medical visits and sorting through insurance. With a steady hand they support daily living for the people in their care through bathing, dressing, shopping, and cooking. Their hearts fill the spaces between the tangible tasks of caregiving with meaning, purpose, and connection. They get to know people, and they care. Sometimes, they are the only ones there.
Funded in part by a grant from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, a group of direct care providers collaborated with photographer Penelope Carrington, author Gigi Amateau, and Family Lifeline's home care manager Allison Watkins to explore dimensions of health equity and personal wellness through poetry, reflective writing, yoga, and breathing. Inspired by one another’s stories and the poetry of Lucille Clifton, Parneshia Jones, and Robert L. Dortch, Jr., the group traversed the complex terrain of black women as care providers, daily acts of creating brave spaces, the landscape of joy, and the intersections of racism, trauma, and caregiving.
In awe of the 191 years of caregiving experience accumulated collectively by this group, Carrington turned her lens toward a story often left untold: To provide in-home care is also to draw courage in the face of racism, sexual harassment, death, and grief. Every day. To provide in-home care is to know you are strong and resilient and to know the source of your strength: Love.
Over the decade spanning 2016 – 2026, the home care sector will seek to fill 4.2 million job openings. Ranking among the top five occupations for projected growth, the home care workforce will add more new jobs to the economy than any other single occupation in the U.S. (PHI, 2019). If the long-term care industry is to recruit and retain enough home care workers to meet the demand, change is imperative: Higher wages and better benefits. Stable schedules. Full-time hours and opportunities for advancement.
The nine women represented in Stretching My Hands Out write together under the pen name Hearts of Gold Collective. They each work at Family Lifeline, a non-profit organization committed to providing excellent care and to changing the long-term services and supports model. Through their work, their lives, their writing, and these images, Hearts of Gold Collective invites you to advocate for change with them.
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Listen to Allison perform please tell me you can see me by the Hearts of Gold Collective.