Single mom creates respite care program for special-needs families [grant winner!]

respite care for special needs families

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Jeannine Hamilton, serving other special-needs families with a break!

Jeannine Hamilton, 43, of Little Rock, Ark., is a single mom of three. As the mother of an 8-year-old daughter with autism, she knows first-hand the financial, emotional and logistical challenges parents of these special kids face for simple tasks like shopping, house care — not to mention getting a break. That is why she started WE-CARE, an organization that provides free respite care for special needs families, and serves as a coordination point for all area organizations. She is also a new entrepreneur, with Detailed Proofreading.


In her grant application, Jeannine wrote:

When I worked for the University of Central Arkansas at the Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, I suddenly realized that I could help solve a very important problem: Arkansas does not provide respite care as part of Medicaid services for families who take care of children with special needs. Many of these families are financially strapped and lack the ability to hire qualified babysitters.

My idea was to form a network between area nonprofits who try to provide respite care to special need families and the University.  This network provides a central calendar of respite events of all the organizations in the network for these families and the University would become one of these organizations by utilizing students who already major in fields that work with families with special needs.  The college students get important supervised "in the field" experience and the families receive free, quality and qualified respite care. Also, it is one of only two secular organizations in the network which helps to serve those families who are not comfortable with respite care in a church or religion different than their own.  

In this episode we discuss:

  • What motivated Jeannine to start WE-CARE
  • The unique child- and self-care challenges special-needs families face regarding child care
  • Jeannine's advice to special needs families, no matter where you are located
  • How Jeannine structures her day and week to find time to serve others

Learn more


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The full podcast transcript with Jeannine Hamilton about the challenges and wonders of having and helping special-needs families. Jeannine's organization, WE-CARE, provides special-needs families with respite care.

Emma: Hey, hey, hey moms! It is my favorite time of the month when I give away my Kickass Single Mom Grant. For those of you who follow me, you know that every single month of the year, I give away $1,000 to a single mom. It is somebody doing something amazing in the world. Maybe she’s giving back. We’ve had people starting businesses. Just participating in their communities in ways that are meaningful to her and her family. This started off as my way of giving back to the world. I realized that, yes, the money is really cool, and that’s a fun part of this project, but it has grown into something so much bigger. That is changing the dialogue and the narrative about what it means to be a single mom.

The stereotype is that it’s hard and we don’t have anything to give back. We need to take, and we need to ask for money from our exs, and our families, and the government. No. We are finding so many thousands and thousands of single moms are applying for this grant with incredible stories about how they are making the world better.

This is a very exciting grant because this is the first one that’s being sponsored by our new sponsor, Go Banking Rates. Go Banking Rates is this incredible resource of financial information and they are an incredible partner. Other people want to be partners with me, but I really was selective, because it had to be the right partner. Go Banking Rates is the right partner to sponsor the Kickass Single Mom Grant because they are committed to financial education and empowering single moms to financial independence, which is really what I am all about.

As part of our partnership, Go Banking Rates is not only sponsoring us but they are also giving away copies of both The Kickass Single Mom and, are you ready for this? Boss Bitch, which is by Nicole Lapin, and she is a New York Times bestseller. You can go to which is all over my blog if you’ve forgot the link. You’re signing up for their newsletter, which you should be doing anyway because it’s such an incredible resource of financial information, but you also enter to win my book and the Boss Bitch book. I love it that both of these books are about financially empowering women, and they both have swear words in them.  

Jeannine Hamilton, founder of WE-CARE

So, you have heard the lovely laugh of this month’s winner, who I am thrilled to finally introduce to you. Jeannine Hamilton. Jeannine, say hi.

Jeannine: Hi everybody!

Emma: Jeannine is a Little Rock, Arkansas mom of three. She is an entrepreneur. She has a proofreading business, and I know you’re looking at my website, saying you could help me so much.

Jeannine: Yeah.

Emma: I know it. I know it.

Jeannine: Of course.

Emma: I’ve been a writer my whole life and I’ve needed proofreaders like you cannot believe.

This is what I want you to know about Jeannine Hamilton. She is mom of three, and she started an organization in Little Rock called We Care. We Care provides respite care, free of charge, to families of special needs kids.

Jeannine, I love this.

Jeannine: I love it too.

Emma: I love it too. Respite care for families of special-needs kids. First of all, tell us how you personally got interested in this, because you have a personal reason.

Jeannine: Yes. My daughter has autism, and my first two children are what other people would call neurotypical. I didn’t experience the challenges that I’m experiencing now, with my youngest. The challenges are often just being able to go to the grocery store or being able to get daily household chores done. Those types of things that maybe other parents take for granted.

I knew that there were no funds available in Arkansas that provide respite care for special needs families just because of what’s available and what’s not available in Arkansas. I thought I’m working at a university, there are college students here who are training to work with special needs kids. Why can’t we provide respite care for those kids through the university's partnership? Then I realized there were other community organizations that were also involved in similar type of missions. I decided to create a network and the We Care network is a result of that.

Emma: This is wonderful. I know families with special needs kids. I’m very fortunate, my kids are neurotypical. Even if you do have the funds, which most people don’t because it’s so expensive to even care for these kids, often it requires a parent compromising their career to care for these kids. There simply aren’t caretakers. It’s not like you just call the teenage babysitter and they can come and just pop in. It is huge. While you’re with that kid, it is challenging. You need even more of a break. Just say it. You need more of a break. There’s no shame in that.

What is respite care?

Jeannine: Yeah. No. And a lot of these kids have extreme medical needs. You can’t, like you said, just drop them off with Grandma and Grandpa or an extended family member, or even a friend, because there’s so much involved in taking care of each one of these kids. Each one is different. I wanted to provide not only respite care, but specialized respite care, where those parents truly can drop their kids off and not have to worry while they’re going out to do chores or just have a little bit of fun, or even take a nap.

Emma: Right? You have to take care of yourself. This is with the University of Arkansas?

Jeannine: Yeah, this is one branch of We Care, us UCA Bears for Care. Bears is our mascot at the university and these are college students that are typically studying in special education, major occupational therapy. We’re working to try and get physical therapy and maybe nursing students involved. That’s one of our goals eventually. As many departments as we can involve in partnering with us to provide respite care, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Emma: It’s a win-win. The families win, and then the students get training, which they need for their degrees and for their resumes, right?

Jeannine: Right. Exactly.

Emma: And then you’re also partnering with non-profit. That’s part of it often, right? You find yourself in a medical situation, there are resources out there, but in our country, they’re very hard to coordinate. You’re coordinating that for them. You’re creating community with these families.

Jeannine: Yes. We often have repeat families that come to almost every one of our events, and it’s fun to see them interact with each other. It’s really great. Right now, we’ve been fortunate where a new special needs school opened up in Conway. They’ve been providing space for our events. Some of those parents are bringing their kids to events now. So, that’s great. As word gets out I think we’ll have even larger and more participation.

Emma: This is incredible. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where does this come from? You’ve been a single mom for two years, not that long.

Jeannine: Right.

Emma: You’ve been doing this for a while now. You’re not a wealthy person. You don’t have a lot of money that you’re throwing at this yourself. Where does this energy and this focus, and where do you find the time to create this, that serves other families?

Making time for yourself as a single mom

Jeannine: You have to make time. There is no finding time when you’re a single mom. The dedication comes from just taking care of my daughter. She’s a huge inspiration and a sweet little light in my life. That’s just being able to, even though it’s hard taking care of a special needs kid, they have a wonderful way of looking at the world that’s very innocent and pure. It just kind of motivates you to do more for other people and to hopefully make the world better for them as well. That’s where a lot of my energy, whatever I have, comes from.

Emma: Tell us a little more about yourself. Are you from Little Rock? What’s your background? What do you do with your time? How do you organize your day that you can find energy to create this amazing program?

Jeannine: I am actually originally from New Orleans, and moved to Arkansas in ‘92 when I graduated high school. I went to Lyon College, then transferred to UCA and finished there. I worked there off and on in higher education in different capacities. When my youngest came along, it just became too difficult to be able to work a regular office job. She often can get sick for long periods of time. So that, as you can imagine, causes challenges in the work world.

Now, I’m an entrepreneur. Basically what I do is I plan as much as I can, ahead. Often with my daughter and other things pop up unexpectedly, but if I keep the rest of my life as planned as possible, then it’s easier to make room for those unexpected surprises.

Most of the time my day is getting up early, getting my daughter to school, trying to either make sure that all of the things I need to get done are already written down and I have all planned out, and I either work on my business, or right now I’m at a part-time position at a company trying to also help make ends meet. I’ll be working at that job on certain days, and other days working on my business. So far, I’ve been able to help several clients and I’m excited about it.

Self-care with special-needs kids

Emma: That’s incredible. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Jeannine: I try and steal an hour here or there because I usually am very self-aware of when I’ve kind of reached my limit, and I’m at that point of exhaustion. I will maybe take the time to actually have a nice relaxing bath, or just read. I love to read. That’s relaxing for me. Often, I read before bed, and that helps unwind my mind a little bit, so it stops running so I can go to sleep. I just kind of steal pockets of time where I can. Every once in a while, I may be able to plan to go to the movies when it’s just myself and I’m just enjoying the movie and there’s not a lot going on. Those types of things is what I do to try and take care of me.

Emma: I love it. That’s a lot, and I love that. I get really sad and frustrated when I ask that question and moms are like, “Oh, nothing. I don’t take care of myself.” Some of them feel proud of that. I’m like, “No.”

Jeannine: No. If you don’t take care of yourself, at least at some point, then you can’t take care of anybody else.

Emma: That’s right.

Advice for exhausted parents of special-needs kids

Emma: If you were to give three quick pieces of advice to parents of special needs kids that are about to lose it?

Jeannine: Well, make sure you know and are aware of the resources in your community. That’s probably the first and foremost. A lot of times, parents are overwhelmed, maybe by the first time they’ve gotten the diagnosis and they don’t know where to start. The first thing to start with is either with your school because they’re aware of resources, or community organizations, there are usually at least one or two that are focused on families with special needs and can give them all the resources they need. Then there’s some national organizations as well.

I know a lot of people are aware of Autism Speaks or other organizations that maybe specialize for that particular diagnosis, or cerebral palsy. Make sure you’re aware of your resources nationally and locally.

Make sure you take care of yourself at some point. It may be difficult at first but you’ve got to figure out what your support system is and try and steal pockets of time for yourself. Otherwise, you’re going to burn out very quickly and it’s not going to be helpful for the kid, and the kid is the most important thing, in my opinion.

I would say those are the two major things to do. Then, usually everything else kind of falls in place.

Emma: I think the social support, I know I went through a medical crisis, I’ve written about this publicly, my husband, when I had a husband, had a brain injury, and it was a unique and traumatic experience to be the caretaker of somebody with a brain injury. I went through probably a year of just feeling so overwhelmed and alone, then I found a support group. And maybe there’s not a support group, but there might be a Facebook group. Facebook group or you create a Facebook group or something. Just to have other people who get it. Then you can tap into the resources. Just to be around other people who get it, was life-changing for me.

Jeannine: It makes you feel like you’re not so alone.

Emma: That you’re not crazy.

Jeannine: No, that you’re not crazy. That the feelings you have are valid. Then you realize that other people have those feelings, so you feel like, “Okay, it’s not just me. Everybody, or a lot of people, go through this.” And that just makes you feel so much better.

Emma: Absolutely. Jeannine Hamilton, I love you. Thank you for the work that you are doing. It is important.

Jeannine: Thank you for the work you’re doing.

Emma: You inspire me and you are helping people and I can see that this work fills you up, and that makes me happy.

Jeannine: Yes, it does. I feel like I’m making a difference and it’s a legacy that I hope to leave for my own children.

Emma: And they’re watching you. Your youngest is young, and your older two are in college, and they are watching their mom.

Jeannine: Yes.

Emma: And the other women in your community, they are watching you. And women who are in bad situations, who don’t think they can do it as single moms, they are watching you, and they say, “Yes. Jeannine Hamilton. Look at all this stuff she’s doing without a spouse. Without a million dollars.”

Jeannine: Yeah.

Emma: I can do it. I can get out. And that’s activism. That’s how we’re changing the world.

Jeannine: That’s right. Thank you.

Emma: Thank you.

We’ll give another shoutout to our wonderful sponsor, Go Banking Rates. Go to sign up for their awesome financial information newsletter. For signing up, you’re automatically entered to win a copy of my bestselling book, the Kickass Single Mom and Nicole Lapin’s the Boss Bitch. You need both those books in your life.

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Every month I give $1,000 to a single mom committed to building a positive life for herself, her family and contributing to the world in a productive way.

The Kickass Single Mom Grant supports endeavors that show promise for success — whether it is a career, business, nonprofit, charitable, creative or family project that is already underway and could use a financial boost.

This might include paying for formal education that will advance your career (or launch a new career!) that makes you happy and proud, propels you to financial independence and makes you a great role model for your children and others whose lives you touch.

You might seek to use this money to build your dream business — one that lights your passion, contributes to the world in a positive way.

Maybe you have a volunteer or nonprofit project that is blossoming.

Perhaps it is a personal project that you want to describe to me.

One part of this grant is to support incredible single women doing amazing things.

The other part is to highlight incredible single moms to inspire and uplift others who may not see in themselves what is possible.

No income maximum (or requirement). All nationalities welcome. Winners are announced the first of every month.

Apply now! 

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

1 Comment

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