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Unique Colorado program aims to help caregivers of sick or injured loved ones


DENVER (KDVR) — A Colorado non-profit is seeking applications and nominations for caregivers to attend a free retreat focused on helping them overcome the challenges of caring for a sick or injured family member. 

“There’s 53 million-plus caregivers. We know there’s gonna be more after COVID. That’s a low number. We know 40% to 60% have major clinical, clinically diagnosed major depression,” Heather Zoccali said. 

Zoccali helped launch No Barriers Caregivers, a program within the No Barriers USA organization. 

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“I wanted… a space, a base camp so to speak, where caregivers can come and just be themselves,” she said. 

Zoccali spent the majority of her childhood as a youth caregiver for her father. As an adult, she fell ill multiple times requiring her family to become caregivers for her. In 2015, she resumed the role of caregiver after a hit and run left her 16-year-old son Connor paralyzed from the waist down in March. 

“In Craig [Hospital], I had the ‘aha’ moment. I saw all these caregivers and family members just not shower, not eating, not taking care of themselves. Just being with their loved one 24/7,” she said. 

A few years later, she developed what is now No Barriers Caregivers. 

“We have an online community where we just connect and have conversations,” Zoccali said. “It doesn’t matter who you voted for, what religion, you have this shared experience and it’s magical.”

The program also puts on four-day, three-night retreats at no cost to caregivers. 

“It’s three days honoring the past, how you are presently and what you can do with the future,” Zoccali said. “We rock climb, ropes course, we do yoga, massage, we have intense conversations.”

The goal, she says, is to help caregivers regain their identities and find joy. 

“When I came to No Barriers, it kind of allowed me my own space to grieve and process and my own disappointments of what my life was supposed to look like,” Rachel Davis said. 

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Davis’ husband, Jay, was in a plane crash in February 2018. He lost the use of his arms and legs. 

“That whole day changed my entire life too,” she said. 

However, Davis said not many people talk about the impact accidents and illnesses have on caregivers. 

“It doesn’t get talked about enough,” she said. “They’ll come to me and be like, ‘Hey, how’s Jay?’ ‘He’s great! You want to know how my mental health is doing? Because it’s not good right now.'”

Davis quit her job to become a full-time caregiver. 

“I was completely lost,” she said. “My purpose was gone.”

According to Davis, No Barriers Caregivers provided her with a community of support that does not otherwise exist. 

“It’s not about just self-care and bubble baths. It’s not about that at all. It’s about acknowledging that there’s grief and disappointment and things that happened that I had to deal with that we don’t get to talk about when we’re being in that caregiver role,” she said. 

No Barriers Caregivers retreat applications and nominations are open through March 21. The retreats are in Colorado but are open to all caregivers. 

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