A Jacksonville caregiver who became a champion for other caregivers is moving on to new chapters in both her personal and professional life.
Toula Wooten, founder of “Toula Tips for Caregivers” and the Caregiver Coalition of Northeast Florida, recently lost both her mother and father, the loved ones that led her into a career as one of Florida’s best-known caregiver champions. She also is leaving Community Hospice of Northeast Florida and reenergizing a well-known Jacksonville caregiving initiative as an independent non-profit.
Wooten has always had a love for caregiving. Before she became a caregiver herself; she began the Caregiver Coalition of Northeast Florida in Duval, Jacksonville while working at the Community Hospice of Jacksonville.
After noticing the limited resources, lack of information and support for patient families and caregivers, Wooten wanted to make a change. Her mission was to form an organization that would work to together to bring knowledge of services and support. The coalition is comprised of multiple healthcare organizations that came together to support the task of creating a better experience for caregivers.
The trailblazer didn’t stop there. In 2010 she began her own radio show called “Toula Tips for Caregivers.” She used this platform to be the voice for caregivers and offer assistance to those who called in. Multiple national leaders, caregivers, and celebrities have appeared and spoken on her show, and sponsors have included AARP as well as other well-known national organizations.
In 2011, Wooten became a caregiver herself for her parents, Nick and Beverly Sotiropoulos. Through her time of caring for them, Wooten took her own advice; to continue to take care of herself. She continued her daily activities; she traveled during her free time, and focused on her health.
The arc of her caregiving journey ended when her parents passed away this year. But Wooten continued on. “I’m sad but I’m okay. My parents would want me to go on.” Wooten said. She used her experience to urge caregivers to take care of themselves while caring for others. It is often when caregivers are done caring for patients, they are unsure or lost on what to do next.
Wooten’s next steps were to expand; she took her radio show off the Jacksonville air and decided to begin podcasts. This way, she would be able to reach the masses more efficiently. She also continued her work for the coalition until the Community Hospice decided to go in another direction without the caregiver coalition.
Wooten is now restructuring the coalition and transitioning to Eldercare in Jacksonville. “My plan for this year is for the coalition to become a 501 C non-profit organization and we have the numbers to do that,” Wooten said. Her overall goal is eventually go statewide. She has also begun to do caregiver consulting with the National Alliance for Caregivers. She will be advising caregivers across the nation on how to take care of themselves as well as their loved ones.
“My number one tip for caregivers is whatever you do that makes you happy or brings you joy and happiness, don’t stop that. Don’t isolate yourself and continue your daily life!” Wooten said. Wooten is now enjoying her semi-retired life with her husband, traveling and ballroom dancing. “More traveling, more dancing, more consulting, that’s my life.” Wooten said.