Each year, one support group facilitator from the Washington State Chapter is selected to receive the Morey Skaret Leadership Award. This honor is named after Morey Skaret, who attended the very first Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group and went on to become a support group facilitator for over 20 years.
This year’s winner of the Morey Skarat Leadership Award is Val Brustad. Val has been a volunteer support group facilitator for over 15 years, leading caregiver support groups in both Kent and Auburn, WA. Val was a caregiver for his mother who had Alzheimer’s for many years. His late wife was an Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator, and when she passed away unexpectedly, Val began facilitating her support groups in her honor.
While he is extremely humble about his service, we know from Val’s support group participants that he has been and continues to be a tremendous source of information and support to the caregivers he serves.
We interviewed Val to learn a little bit more about why he is so passionate about volunteering as a support group facilitator.
Tell us about yourself:
I currently live in South King County in the area between Federal Way and Auburn, a half-mile down a gravel road. My wife, Laura, and I are retired. I worked at Boeing. We have six adult children between us and seven grandchildren. I grew up in Ballard and have lived in Europe and Japan. I have a BS in Chemistry from the University of Puget Sound. I am a vegetable gardener and woodworker, enjoy travel and run a recycling program at my church.
Why did you start volunteering as a support group facilitator for the Alzheimer’s Association and why do you continue to volunteer as a support group facilitator?
These two questions are very much tied together. My mother had vascular dementia and that’s how we learned of the Alzheimer’s Association. As a result my first wife, Marj, became a facilitator. When Marj died suddenly, I took over the group and learned how to facilitate a support group. I have come to enjoy the interaction of the group and watching the group come together to support each other.
Tell us about Marj:
Marj was very active in church and her job as a paraeducator. She retired to care full-time for my mother in our house. A friend asked her to become a support group facilitator for the Kent group and I became the support person, schlepping the materials to and from the meetings. Marj suffered a brain aneurysm and died a few days prior to her next group meeting. I went to the meeting and have now been running the Kent group for 15 years.
Have you learned anything over the years as a support group facilitator?
Yes, a lot. I learned to listen and to let others in the group learn from each other.
What would you tell someone who is considering joining a support group?
I think support groups are very important. Any task shared is a task made easier and caregiving is an incredibly difficult task. There is so much isolation and lack of adult interaction as a caregiver, and a support group helps to alleviate that.
Do you have any universal advice for caregivers that you think could be helpful?
My grandmother died caring for my grandfather, so one thing I always stress is to take care of yourself. Be selfish if that’s what it takes! The stress of caregiving can kill you, so it’s important for you to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Joining a support group is one small way you can do that.
Support groups are a great way to connect with people experiencing similar situations surrounding Alzheimer’s and dementia. Most of our in-person support groups are now meeting over the phone or online. Learn more about our support groups here.