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.
“I always liked to do new things and build things so I said ‘yes.’ I thought it would be a great opportunity to be creative and do something worthwhile … at that point it was a relatively new field and we were on the cutting edge of providing services to family caregivers.”
The SCRC is one of 11 such centers established as a network throughout the state. California was the first state in the nation to mandate and establish such a network of private, independent nonprofit entities to assist caregivers.
In 2009, California caregivers provided an estimated 3.9 billion hours of care at an estimated value to society of $47 billion.
Traditionally, the SCRC has been funded by grants from the California State Department of Mental Health, San Diego County’s Aging and Independence Services, private foundations and donations from individuals and corporations.
But the state, strapped for cash, is withdrawing its support.
Services offered by SCRC have been evidence-proven to help caregivers remain healthy, to continue their regular employment, and to keep those for whom they provide care safe.
They include information and referral, caregiver training and counseling, community education and outreach, professionally directed support groups, long-term care planning and respite services designed to relieve caregivers with time off for R&R.
SCRC also helps clients address various legal and financial issues related to caring for an adult.
Most of SCRC’s caregiver clients are women, Van Tilburg said.
“When I first started the agency, the caregivers tended to be older women caring for their husbands. With baby-boomers now caring for their parents, they still have kids in the house, so they are providing care on both ends.
“And there is a growing number of men who are caring for their wives,” she said. “Men have different issues when they are caring for their wives. A lot of it is they are not used to talking about their feelings and not used to saying “I need help’ and seeking support.”
Another factor contributing to the increasing numbers of family caregivers is the return of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders.
“And their families don’t know how to help them and how to help themselves,” she said.
“It has also become an economic issue now. A lot of caregivers, while they may be still employed in the workforce, are having a hard time going to work, taking care of their kids and managing the care of a loved one at home” resulting in absenteeism and affecting productivity.
In the past, Van Tilburg was herself a “long distance caregiver” to her parents who lived in the Bay Area. They passed away just about the time she was starting the SCRC.
If she were in a similar situation today, she said, she would definitely reach out and seek help “and not take it on all on your own, because you think it’s your job.”
The SCRC is funded by grants from governmental agencies, private foundations and donations from corporations and individuals, but is currently operating on a trimmed-down annual budget of $1.8 million due to severe cuts in state support.
Funding is always a struggle, she said.
“About two-and-a-half years ago, from the state of California, we took a 73 percent cut which was about $800,000, so that was really a struggle and a challenge to bring the agency back and in this recent budget we were completely eliminated in the Governor’s budget.”
If the governor’s budget passes as proposed, she said, the agency will cease receiving funds from the state as of July 1.
“It’s disappointing to see, with the number of caregivers growing and continuing to grow and with the needs that they have, that there isn’t a focus on providing care support for community-based services,” Van Tilburg lamented.
Her wish list includes bringing in more funding from corporations, foundations and individual donors to continue the agency’s work and to expand its programs.
She is hoping that companies and corporations will consider including, in their employee assistance programs, benefits for the unsung heroes of caregiving.
The SCRC will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dinner and dance on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar. The honorary chair will be former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Tickets are $225 per person and may be purchased at
Lorie Van Tilburg
Former social worker Lorie Van Tilburg is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Southern Caregiver Resource Center which will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dinner and dance on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar.
Del Mar for 27 years
Santa Monica, California
B.A. and master’s in social work, 1980 and 1982, respectively from San Diego State University.
She and her husband, attorney Jeff Tierman, have been married for 15 years. She has two grown stepdaughters, Shanna and Melissa.
Hiking, walking, scuba diving and reading.
“If I can read outdoors in a nature setting, then that’s the perfect getaway.”
“Homeland” and “Boss” “I don’t care for the reality shows anymore.”
“I pretty much read everything except I don’t like biographies and science fiction. I do like Vince Flynn and Lee Child thrillers.
“Always try to do the best that you can; give it 100 percent and let go of the outcome. What will be, will be.”