The Making of a Caregiver, Advocate

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Deanna Conerly describes herself as an extraverted introvert. However, her story shows someone who’s not hesitant about providing care and advocating for others.

As one of CICOA’s newest Board members, Deanna brings an exceptional level of passion and experience to a role that allows her to advocate for the organization’s mission and help more people become aware of the services CICOA offers.

Caregiving is deeply personal for Deanna

Growing up in Indianapolis, Deanna spent countless hours at her grandmother’s home in a senior apartment complex. When her grandmother, in the final stages of lung cancer, was moved to St. Vincent Hospice, Deanna, then 13, would visit with her there, and was touched by the compassion of the staff. Whether she realized it or not, the seeds of a caregiver/advocate had been planted.

In her mid-20s, Deanna volunteered with a hospice in Chicago. One of her clients was a former high school principal with a brain tumor who had lost the ability to communicate due to aphasia.

“I felt her frustration, and one day we even cried together,” Deanna said. “I felt her pain. But I saw how important it was for her to be at home with her husband and to have support brought in.

Fast-forward to 2016. Deanna had become the primary caregiver for her father, a widower. Deanna coordinated his care and medical appointments, first with her siblings in his own home, and later, after he’d moved into Deanna’s home along with her two children.

Driven to make an impact through CICOA’s mission

As a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and through her volunteer network, Deanna got to know members of the CICOA Foundation Board of Trustees, who encouraged her to get involved with the nonprofit. After volunteering with CICOA’s finance committee in 2019, she accepted an invitation to join the operating board this summer.

What was the appeal?

“I’m passionate about what CICOA does, helping people thrive in their homes. I know the value of that from my own experience,” she said. “And I was impressed with the diversity of the clients: seniors, young people with disabilities, different races, LGBT. Everybody.”

She also believed she could bring a different perspective to the board regarding CICOA’s community impact.

“I see what CICOA is able to get done through a different lens. As a financial advisor I work with a lot of female clients, and I know that women are disproportionately impacted by caregiving for aging parents, grandparents and in-laws. As a financial advisor, I’ve helped women’s voices be heard, and I also want to do that as a CICOA board member.

As to helping advocate for the organization, Deanna hopes to link CICOA to the other organizations she helps lead.

“I’ve got ideas,” Deanna said. “Everybody gets older and is going to need these services. I want to help CICOA empower people to live the life they want.”


Are you driven to make an impact on the care of seniors, people with disabilities and family caregivers? Get involved with CICOA by volunteering!


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