Gary A. Powell, founder and executive director of The Caregiver Foundation in Pearl City, Hawaii, is a recipient of True Link’s annual grant that recognizes exceptional practitioners of guardianship who work to strengthen systems of oversight and quality in guardianship. Gary has been a leader in Hawaii’s guardianship community, including advocating for the implementation of statewide standards of practice. Nominations for next year’s grantees will open in February, 2021.
I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but I started being a caregiver when I was 13 years old. My grandpa had a series of strokes and needed a lot of help from our family. My biggest job was taking him down to the beach and helping him walk in the sand to strengthen his legs. We did that every day, and I liked helping him. My father was a minister, so I would go with him on Sundays to visit people who rarely left their homes. Helping other people has always been part of my life, and I love it.
Throughout my career, I’ve had a variety of jobs and gained a lot of business skills that are helpful to me today. At one job, the owner would tell the most interesting stories about his life and I really learned the importance of listening. Eventually, I moved on to his property to take care of him and his wife until he passed, and his wife had to go to a nursing home. That’s when I realized that many people needed a little more help than they were getting.
From Personal Passion to Career
At one point, I worked in financial services, and I saw way too many people – primarily seniors – who had been sold products that weren’t in their best interests and compromised their ability to have financial flexibility. The products might be great for some people, but they were only sold to them because the salesperson earned a commission. I also saw people with dementia who were being taken advantage of, even by their own family members. I knew if I managed their money, that wouldn’t be the way I would do things.
At the time my wife, Masako, was working for a nonprofit fiduciary management company that worked with a lot of seniors. They asked me to be on the Board, and I quickly realized they didn’t have anyone to run the business side of things. So, I left my job to help them organize their operation.
One night Masako said, “The only time you come home really happy is when you’ve worked with an older couple to help straighten out their affairs, but you’re not getting paid. You should figure out a way to do that as a career.”
In creating and launching The Caregiver Foundation, that’s what I did. It’s the best move I ever made, because everything I’ve ever done applies to this work. With the help of some very generous people, like having access to office space rent free, we were self-sustaining by year three.
We have a fabulous Board of Directors, and every one of them has either been a caregiver or has a direct professional connection with caregiving. We also have a terrific staff, including Masako, and the most important quality we look for is that they have the heart for helping people.
Doing Good Feels Good
We offer a lot of different services, both for beneficiaries and caregivers. For our beneficiaries, we can keep individual assets in their name while still serving as their trustee or guardian. We do everything we can to make our beneficiaries feel like they have financial freedom because that’s important to them, which is why we love True Link.
From home organizing and cleaning to daily money management, we do many things to help our clients. We also have something we call “stand-by service,” which is for people who don’t have anyone to take care of them, so we do everything from cutting their grass to making their dinner to just talking with them. In addition, we raise funds for our Pūlama Aloha Fund, which helps people with limited resources access services and support.
We provide a lot of assistance to caregivers, too. We coordinate services for them so they can just focus on their loved one, and offer more than 70 different workshops to train and guide people in caregiving.
I truly love my work. It’s like taking everything good you’ve ever wanted to do and staying busy doing it. My favorite part of the job is getting a phone call from someone who needs help. I get excited wondering, “Who am I going to talk to today and make a difference?”