In celebration of Black History Month, VA’s Caregiver Support Program (CSP) is honored to share the remarkable work of JoAnn Stevens, a Veteran’s caregiver. Through her faith, she helps other caregivers and Veterans, healing the community and sharing Black Americans’ legacy.
Army Veteran Willard Stevens
Leaning into support and faith
JoAnn Stevens attributes her faith to wearing multiple hats. She’s a minister, the director of a nonprofit organization, a mother and a caregiver. The latter is how she became involved in the VA Caregiver Support Program (CSP).
Stevens’ story began in Snow Hill, NC. She attended Best Chapel Freewill Baptist Church where she is now a minister.
According to Stevens, her spiritual foundation has kept her firm as a caregiver to her husband, Willard, who is living with a spinal cord injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Willard is a Vietnam-era Army Veteran. He was drafted in 1969.
“Being a caregiver can be complicated at times. But with God by my side and through prayer, I’ve been able to get through hard times when I felt as if there was no hope,” JoAnn said. “It’s how I’ve been able to share my experiences with other caregivers and encourage them during their hard times as well.”
CSP’s Peer Support Mentoring Program has been a saving grace, as well as an avenue to help other caregivers. JoAnn has participated as both a mentor and a mentee. “The Peer Support Mentoring Program is an amazing, therapeutic outlet,” she added. “In this program, you can provide support to other caregivers by sharing your story. You can also receive support by listening to the experiences of others as well.”
Paying it forward
In addition to her CSP activities, JoAnn is the director of a nonprofit organization spearheading community-wide initiatives.
Willard was born in 1950, just four years before the Supreme Court ruling that declared segregated schools unconstitutional. It wasn’t until 1971 that Willard’s home state of North Carolina fully complied with the Supreme Court ruling.
JoAnn Stevens and husband, Willard
Seeing the lasting emotional impact racism has had on Willard’s life, JoAnn set out to find solutions.
She runs an initiative that connects faith-based organizations of different racial backgrounds. She believes this type of unity could be the catalyst for societal change.
“This is important to Willard as well, because he knows from personal experience just how devastating racism can be,” JoAnn shared.
Sharing rich culture of African Americans
Through her activism, JoAnn is passionate about sharing the history of Black Americans. She hopes to uplift others within the community and dispel false narratives and racism by sharing the rich culture of African Americans, as well as the accounts of trailblazing Black men and women of yesterday and today.
The couple also has another project on the horizon: They’re currently renovating a building that will be used as a community center. Some of the center’s services will help Veterans and their support systems connect with resources.
This continuous activism throughout her journey as a caregiver and the couple’s involvement in the community inspires others to action, including staff, employees and leadership at VA.
Learn about the Caregiver Support Program.
VA Caregiver Support Program (CSP) and Faith-Based Services
VA’s resources for Veterans’ caregivers, including faith-based services:
On Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. EST, VA National Chaplain Services and CSP will host “Spiritual Care & Self-Care for the Caregiver during COVID.”
For more information on this session and the CSP Peer Support Mentoring Program, visit https://www.caregiver.va.gov/support/Peer_Support_Mentoring_Program.asp.
For more information about VA National Chaplain services, visit https://www.patientcare.va.gov/chaplain/index.asp.
Michelle Stefanelli is the national program manager for VA’s Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring program.