By Arthur Lightbourn
Lorie Van Tilburg considers her 32,000 clients “unsung heroes.”
Van Tilburg, a longtime Del Mar resident and a licensed clinical social worker, is the founder and executive director of the Southern Caregiver Resource Center (SCRC), the leading nonprofit provider of support services for family caregivers in San Diego and Imperial counties.
Her unsung heroes are people who, even as you read this, are working quietly and without pay caring for family members or friends at home who suffer from brain impairments caused by stroke, head trauma, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Many of these caregivers devote an average of 20 hours a week providing care for the chronically ill, disabled, frail and elderly, helping them with things they can no longer do for themselves, such as bathing, shopping, managing medications and paying bills.
But it often takes a toll, physically and emotionally, on the caregivers themselves who too often neglect their own personal care, such as regular medical check-ups, exercising, sleeping, eating healthily and socializing.
With a staff of dedicated family consultants, and with Van Tilburg at the helm, the SCRC has been providing free comprehensive support services for these caregivers for the past 25 years.
Usually when a caregiver arrives at the SCRC, they are “in crisis,” Van Tilburg said.
“They have been caring for their loved one at home, thinking they can do it on their own, but they are realizing they can’t and they need help if they are going to avoid a breakdown.
“Depression is a huge factor for families that don’t seek help,” she said.
We interviewed Van Tilburg recently on the patio of the Pacifica Breeze café in the Del Mar Plaza before she headed off for her daily commute to her office on Ruffin Road in Kearny Mesa.
When she’s not working, you’ll just as likely find her walking on the beach in Del Mar or hiking the trails of nearby Torrey Pines.
“I’m an outdoors person,” she said.
Van Tilburg was born in Santa Monica and grew up, along with her two sisters, in the Bay Area. Her father was a materials management employee in the defense and space shuttle industry and her mom was an administrative assistant at Sylvania.
She zeroed in on social work as a chosen career, right after high school, heading to San Diego State University where she earned both her bachelor’s degree and master’s in social work in 1980 and 1982 respectively.
Initially, she said, she worked with children, in foster care and with the probation department, but while going to graduate school, she switched to working with the elderly. “And I enjoyed that,” she said. “I liked learning from them and from the wisdom they had gained through the years. And I think it was just my nature to be a helping person.”
After college, she worked as a clinical social worker with the county’s agency on aging, and subsequently at Mercy Hospital as the director of social work before she was approached with the challenge of founding a nonprofit caregiver resource center for this area.