After her husband Joe was diagnosed with colon cancer at 28 years old, Amanda Clark-Wahl took on a role she never anticipated would be hers at a young age – the role of caregiver. “Everything was so shocking and overwhelming,” said Amanda. “I was thrown into a role with new tasks, responsibilities, and challenges – while still trying to process that my husband was very sick.”
To keep family and friends informed, Joe and Amanda began a blog called Cocktails & Chemo. “We wrote it from his perspective as a young patient and mine as a new caregiver,” shared Amanda. Over time, their following grew as more people in similar situations – patients and caregivers – came to appreciate the support and compassion the blog offered.
“After Joe’s passing in 2014, I felt a calling to continue to support other family caregivers,” said Amanda. “I wanted to build on the online community that Joe and I created together.”
“Through my experience, I realized there were very few resources for caregivers, and so often, the emotional, well-being, and financial support needed is overlooked,” said Amanda. “I googled, ‘how to start a nonprofit’ and Cocktails & Chemo expanded almost overnight.”
In 2019, Amanda received the Royal Neighbors Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and grant. “Receiving the grant was such a moving moment for me,” recalled Amanda. “I remember holding the giant check and thinking we are a real organization now. People believe in our work!”
Cocktails & Chemo received the grant at a crucial time. During 2020, caregivers needed support more than ever, as many were caring for family members who could not risk leaving their homes. The funds were used to distribute the Our Tribe grants to many families in dire need. Our Tribe grants provide $2,000 to caregivers with children to offset the cost of childcare. “It was so hard to balance being home with our daughter Mira Joey and going to chemotherapy,” shared Amanda.
Our Tribe grants help caregivers provide love and support in two places at one time. “The program was inspired by our daughter,” added Amanda. “I hope she’ll always know the impact it’s making for others.”
Families can apply for the Our Tribe grant through a simple online application form. Selected caregivers are notified through heartfelt and personal phone calls. “Our greatest moments are felt in the monthly calls to tell caregivers they have received the grant. Having the opportunity to give that level of a gift and knowing it is making an impact is a blessing,” said Amanda.
In 2021, the organization changed its name to Cocktails & Caregivers. “We were coming into contact with all kinds of caregivers,” said Amanda, “and they all needed a supportive network for the happy times, the hard times, and the times that were too hard to describe.”
Cocktails & Caregivers is a 100% volunteer-operated organization. They have more than 17 full-time volunteers, hundreds of part-time volunteers, and a committed board and advisory board. A virtual meeting and volunteer structure offers the benefit of nationwide recruitment of board members and volunteers. “Every person on our team has experienced caregiving first-hand,” said Amanda. “The cause is very personal for all of us.”
“We take a moment in every meeting to read letters from caregivers and their family members. It keeps our mission at the forefront of everything we do,” said Amanda.
In addition to the Our Tribe grants, Cocktails & Caregivers sends dozens of care packages each month. The purpose of the packages is to provide helpful resources and items to make caregivers feel loved and appreciated. In 2022, they sent 126 care cards and packages throughout 29 states. “The majority of caregivers will not ask for help,” shared Amanda. “Their friends and family members nominate them online, and we deliver little blue boxes directly to their doorstep.”
Cocktails & Caregivers’ biggest fundraiser is their gala, held every other year. More than 55 caregivers are invited to attend this non-traditional fundraising event. They are pampered with hair and makeup and given a red-carpet experience they will never forget. The next event will occur in 2024 and it is rumored to be the biggest yet!
Smaller events are held throughout the year, like a trivia night, caregiver luncheon, and salon days – where caregivers are pampered while sipping champagne. The Angel Family Giving event provides all the gifts on Christmas wish lists for several families every year. Cocktails & Caregivers utilizes the Royal Neighbors Difference Maker Fund to purchase wrapping paper, boxes, and tape for this event.
“My dream is to find more ways to support caregivers to meet their specific needs,” shared Amanda. “As we grow, I’d like to see more nominations for the Our Tribe grant and send a card or care package to every nominated caregiver.”
Do you know a caregiver who selflessly cares for someone they love? You can nominate them to receive a care package by clicking here.