WASILLA — Wasilla resident Alicia Maddaloni recently joined the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s 2019 class of Dole Caregiver Fellows, a group of U.S. military caregivers chosen to represent the foundation and their local caregiving communities.

Maddaloni said that she was thrilled by the news and has a lot she wants to accomplish.

“I am looking forward so much to getting started here in Alaska. We already had Dole Fellows in the past here but there are so many things that I want to do this time around,” Maddaloni said.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation was founded in 2012. It’s a national advocacy group that strives to empower and support caregivers taking care of active military and veterans. Their efforts include raising public awareness, driving research, defending relevant policies, and collaborating entities big and small to improve the lives of caretakers and those their caring for.

Maddaloni represents Alaska out of more than 25 military caregivers across the U.S. who serve as ambassadors for the nation’s 5.5 million caregivers, according to a recent press release. These caregivers are spouses, friends, and family members; and combined, they’re investing over $14 billion in voluntary care for their injured and ill loved ones who served in the military.

Maddaloni will serve from 2019 to 2021, working alongside past and present Dole Fellows to advise the foundation, collation partners, local and federal government, and community leaders across Alaska. She will discuss the most pressing topics relevant to military caregivers working to make positive change for the “hidden heroes.”

“The Foundation is thrilled to welcome our seventh class of Dole Caregiver Fellows to join us in our mission,” Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation stated in the press release. “Our Fellows come from different backgrounds but share the same story of strength and resilience in caring for their wounded warriors. They are the heart and soul of our Foundation, lending their experiences and wisdom to support our work on behalf of military caregivers nationwide. We are beyond grateful for their willingness to step forward as advocates for their fellow hidden heroes.”

First and foremost, Maddaloni said she aims to spread awareness for the Foundation by doing resource fairs and local events. She’s striving to let caregivers across Alaska know who they are what they do.

She said that one of her major goals is to create a monthly coffee and/or lunch meetup so caregivers can come and talk amongst likeminded people in similar situations.

“I find that very therapeutic as a caregiver myself,” Maddaloni said.

It’s also a chance for her to connect caregivers to resources they may not have heard of before.

“Sometimes they just need a little help with those things,” Maddaloni said.

She plans to have a wellness summit for caregivers every six months with speaker presentations and activities like yoga- all centered on caregiver health and wellbeing.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation has a program called Hidden Hero Cities, which currently has 124 cities and counties across the country participating to provide local military caregivers with resources.

Maddaloni said that she hopes to get the chance to sit down with Gov. Dunleavy to discuss adding Hidden Hero Cities, to Alaska since it currently has none.

The monthly meetups and wellness summits are both essentially designed to take care of the caregivers, offering stress relief and a sense of comradery. She said that self-care is absolutely vital for caretakers. This can be anything from a quiet bath to a meditation session. It can be weekly yoga or spending 10 minutes a day with a good book.

“Find something that is solely yours. That way you can replenish your energy levels… You can’t take care of anyone else if you can’t start taking care of yourself,” Maddaloni said.

Maddaloni is her husband Angelo’s caretaker. Angelo served in the U.S. Marine Corps and suffered a brain injury along with several other injuries including vision loss, cracked vertebrate, and four herniated discs. He uses a spinal cord stimulator to help him walk.

After his final deployment in 2008, Angelo needed a lot of help from his wife. She said that she instinctively started right away but didn’t notice how much was really going into this until 2010. That’s when she realized she was not just being a supportive spouse, but a full on caretaker.

On top of taking care of their three children, Maddaloni handles numerous responsibilities as a caretaker, from daily medication reminders to easing his bouts of anxiety.

“As a spouse, personally I love my husband so normally, I just fell right into a routine and didn’t even notice it or think about it,” Maddaloni said.

Every caretaker’s situation is different. Each person has their own unique needs. Maddaloni said that two of the most important things to keep in mind when becoming a caretaker are: patience and empathy, which play off each other.

She said it’s important to put one’s self in the “other person’s shoes” which will ground the person into a more calm understanding.

Her advice to new caretakers is this: “Just breathe.”

“They’re our nation’s heroes and we’re caring for them… I just believe they deserve the best they can get… it’s their turn to be taken care of,” Maddaloni said.

To connect learn more about the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and connect with Maddaloni, visit hiddenheroes.org to sign up.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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