JoAnn Fowler Combs, 71, has spent her life serving others. The community gathered to honor her service by rewarding Combs with the CICOA 2013 Caregiver of the Year award.
CICOA is the Central Indiana Council on Aging.
An estimated 65.7 million people in the United States provide care for an elderly or disabled family member. Caregivers like Combs, make it possible for individuals to stay in their homes and lead lives of dignity and independence.
“I was humbled, proud and thankful to receive such an honor,” Combs said. “It was something that I never dreamed of. It never even crossed my mind that I’d be nominated.”
CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions is the premier source of information and access to resources for older adults, people of any age with a disability and family caregivers living in Central Indiana. In its fourth year the annual Signature Breakfast, where Combs was awarded, 420 people attended and raised more than $80,000.
CICOA received 20 nominations from the community, which were reviewed by a panel of judges. The entry requirements include a personal caregiver in Central Indiana who models courage, sacrifice, strength and creativity while caring for another.
Her daughter, Patrice Searcy, who praises her mother for her selflessness, courage and strength, nominated her.
“Choosing one Caregiver of the Year was difficult because we had so many excellent candidates to choose from,” said Dana Robinson director of marketing and communications at CICOA. “JoAnn stood out from the others because the length of time she has served as a caregiver, as well as the fact that she has served so many, not just immediate family members. It is an honor to recognize these everyday heroes among us who have selflessly served others.”
For more than 10 years, Combs has provided daily care for her family members.
At 32-years-old she was widowed. Combs raised her two children as a single parent, owned her own business and served as a day care director at two area centers. She also cared for many members of her family during that time, including her mother and second husband, who both died in her arms.
Later, she tended to her former son-in-law for four months after he had a debilitating stroke.
In 2006, Combs began taking care of her sister who is paralyzed and suffers from mental illness, as well as her first mother-in-law, who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease. Combs provides their personal care, cooks their favorite meals and takes them to doctors’ appointments.
In her nomination letter, Searcy wrote, “Mom is committed and determined that neither my grandmother nor her sister will be placed in a nursing facility and that the days they have left are lived at home surrounded by family.”
“I call them my older children. I’m grateful to do what I am doing. The Lord has given me the things that I need to do it. It wouldn’t be without my relationship with Christ. He enables me,” Combs said.
Her service does not stop with her care giving. She also serves on the Parish Council of the St. Rita Catholic Church, and she is Grand Lady (president) of the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver. Combs has served for five years as president.
She’s always in the kitchen cooking delightful family meals. Most Sundays everyone will gather at her home to enjoy collard greens, chicken, macaroni and cornbread.
“I tried to change my corn bread recipe and my great granddaughter said no we like the original recipe,” she laughs. “I love cooking! I will be serving others for the rest of my life as long as I am able to. I’m just so grateful. Serving others is my calling.”