Romparound: The jumper is designed to be simple and versatile to reduce stress. Courtesy photo

Brynn Shaffer / SMDP Intern

Did you know that approximately 43.5 million Americans identify as informal caregivers? The term describes an unpaid individual who assists in taking care of a loved one. While it may seem obvious to care for “the patient,” the well-being of those who help facilitate that care often goes unnoticed, which can have serious consequences to the physical and mental health of caregivers. 

Sometimes, the role of being a caregiver just falls in your lap, and it can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have the proper resources to smoothly navigate it. But two LA organizations are working to take the stress out of caregiving.

Founded in 2019, Caregiver Safe Place is a nonprofit that strives to provide respite care for caregivers. 

“No one really knows the sufferings that we [caregivers] go through because they’re so focused on the person that they think is going to pass or that is not able to take care of themselves,” Carletta Cole, founder and CEO of Caregiver Safe Place, said. “We forget about the people taking care of them.”

Cole was inspired to create Caregiver Safe Place after she found herself taking the role of a caregiver while she looked after her mother who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. 

“I would try to reach out to try to get support for myself … they had a lot of support for my mom, but they didn’t have anything for the caregivers, like mental help or anything of that sort, counseling or peer groups, that will give respite care,” said Cole, who was also juggling the role of being a single mother. “Mentally, I just needed someone to say, ‘Hey, Carletta, what do you need? Do you want to go to the movies? Let me buy a ticket for you to go to the movies and I’ll sit with your mom,’ or, ‘I’ll pay for a caregiver to come sit with your mom.’”

While Cole is grateful for the role her friends played in taking off some of her stress, she said she felt like she was burning her friends out. 

“I was like, ‘If I’m going through this, and I’m struggling to find resources or things of that sort, I know that there’s a whole lot of other people that are in worse situations than I’m in,’ so I wanted to find a way to give back to those caregivers,” Cole reminisced.

According to Cole, it can be hard trying to stay sane. 

“The toughest challenges are mental health [related],” Cole said. “For me, I believe that you go through so many stages, trying to find yourself, trying to remember who you are because you get so involved into the [world] of your loved one … just being able to give yourself downtime is pretty hard.”

On Sept. 21 from 6:30-9:30 p.m., Caregiver Safe Place is hosting Runway to Compassion, a fashion show benefit to raise awareness to caregivers as well as to honor Cole’s mother who passed away on that same day in 2020.

The event will feature a cocktail reception and a silent auction, followed by the fashion show, and include special tributes to the 2022 Caregiver Safe Place honorees. It will be hosted by actors Vincent M. Ward and Trisha Mann-Grant and will take place at 501 Broadway Studio.

Sponsored by various organizations, funds raised through the event will aid in providing local caregivers with a “day off.” Caregiver Safe Place is providing respite care for caregivers to be able to take a break, whether that be a date night out or a multi-day staycation. Caregivers are nominated via their website and Caregiver Safe Place rewards honorees with donations from their sponsors, as well as will pay up to four to eight hours for a temporary caregiver of their choice to take over in hopes of easing the weight load.

Another local organization seeking to aid in providing care for caregivers is Santa Monica-based apparel company Romparound. Founded just a few months ago in December 2021, its founder Megan Kum calls her company the perfect “outfit-shortcut.”

While Kum grew up interested in fashion, she wasn’t necessarily preoccupied with what the latest designers were releasing or what new things her friends from school were buying. Rather, Kum was interested in functional fashion — she liked to curate outfits that made her feel cute, but which took minimal effort.

Kum grew up in Pasadena, attending an all-girls school for most of her education where she wore a khaki and white uniform, in unison with everyone around her. While she disliked the fact that she couldn’t express her creativity with her style and called the uniforms “boring,” it wasn’t until after graduation that she saw the advantages of having an outfit already laid out for you. 

“Oftentimes, I was digging through my closet, couldn’t figure out what to wear, would waste like an hour and hated everything I put on,” Kum said. “I kind of missed the days where I had a uniform.”

Despite these clues and wanting to start her own company for years, Kum’s aha moment wasn’t until later in life, when her father was diagnosed with cancer, right at the onset of COVID-19.

She moved back to Los Angeles from Texas where her whole life shifted. 

“Basically overnight, I became a family caregiver,” Kum said. “I was trying to balance a full-time job and trying to accelerate my career, and as he got sicker, I really had to be ready for anything,” Kum continued. “I was going from helping to take care of him to jumping on a Zoom call, to having to get up in the middle of the night to help, to doctors’ appointments, errands and everything in between, on top of just the overall stress of the pandemic.

“And so, even though I was home all of the time, what I realized is there actually didn’t feel like there were enough minutes in the day,” she continued, adding, “I wanted to find something to wear that made me feel put together, was very easy and still made me feel good about myself.”

After putting the pieces together, Kum created the perfect answer to her worries — a one-size-fits-most jumpsuit that takes the stress out of putting an outfit together. Having no zippers and no buttons, it is incredibly easy to put on and Kum admitted she even sleeps in it sometimes.

“It’s incredibly comfortable,” Kum said. “It also serves a purpose as being a really great outfit for a caregiver who is just not thinking of themselves in that role, but really putting their loved one to the forefront.” 

Kum said the one-piece requires minimal effort, yet she gets compliments all of the time. 

“A lot of the fabrics and prints we have chosen are colorful and bright and printed so it gives the illusion of picking out a more complicated outfit, but you’re really just putting on one piece of clothing,” she described.

“It’s just very versatile,” Kum added. She said the jumpsuit can be dressed up with accessories or dressed down to fit all kinds of needs. As of now, the apparel company sells the $75 jumpsuit in six distinct patterns, although Kum is hoping to expand the style selection as the brand grows. 

“I would like to create a larger fashion line that is based around creating outfit-shortcuts,” Kum said.

Currently, Romparound donates five percent of its proceeds to organizations directly supporting family caregivers, like Caring Across Gen and Family Caregiver Alliance. 

“Usually it’s the patient you’re focusing on, which is the right focus, but like a lot of people forget about caregivers,” Kum said.

After feeling the weight of what it’s like being a caregiver first-hand, both Cole and Kum are trying to give back to that community by increasing caregiver awareness and by offering support where fit.