Purpose Project: training for companions
Photo: Courtesy Purpose Project
Emilia Bourland, left, and Laurie Miller are the founders of the Purpose Project, which provides training to those with time, energy and desire to provide caregiving support.

By Deb Silverthorn

Emilia Bourland and Laurie Miller have created the Purpose Project, which provides training to those with time, energy and desire to provide caregiving support to those in need.

“We’re connecting those needing support with those who have so much to give,” said Miller. “It’s truly community.”

A Dallas native, Miller is a lifelong member of Temple Emanu-El. She graduated from Greenhill School and earned a BBA in marketing at the University of Texas and an M.A. in gerontology from Eastern Illinois University.

Bourland, from Henderson, Nevada, has called Dallas home since 2008. She earned a B.A. in psychology at the University of Texas, an MOT in occupational therapy at Texas Woman’s University and an executive certificate in Home Modification through USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

In 2006, Miller co-founded Apple Care and Companion with her mother Joyce Friedman, of blessed memory, and in the ensuing 15 years she’s learned a lot about the needs of her clients and their families, and about her caregivers. 

Over the past 20 months, she repeatedly heard heart-wrenching stories about those who couldn’t be with their families during the pandemic because of illness or distance. Many caretakers had lost family members but were not themselves ready to stop giving. 

Bourland had provided therapy in a multitude of settings, including in hospitals, rehabs, skilled facilities, home health and the Veterans Administration. In 2019, she started a private practice to provide therapy in patients’ homes and she soon realized that she no longer wanted to work in a reactive manner — after a fall, illness or accident. 

Instead, Bourland recognized that she could make a bigger difference by providing preventive training and support to help older adults age wherever they lived. She realized the training for most nonmedical caregivers was minimal, if it existed at all, and she founded Higher Standards Caregiver Training to provide family, and professional caregivers, the tools they need to provide the safest care for themselves as well as recipients.

During an online industry networking meeting last year, the two professionals connected. Each already had in mind bits of their next steps and together their individual strengths — Miller as the home care agency owner and gerontologist and Bourland as the occupational therapist, educator and technology expert — resulted in the Purpose Project. They have combined their expertise, their business acumen and their heart for clients. 

“No matter how well-meaning people are, without the tools to help our loved ones, we are limited,” said Bourland. “I met Laurie, who is a great businesswoman and so much more than ‘just’ that. She is values-driven and she wants to make people’s lives better, and I knew we could be a team.”

In October, the two launched the Purpose Project, a free, self-paced online program between one and two hours per week for three weeks. 

The modules cover essentials of professional companionship; dos and don’ts of companion care; working for an agency and the basics of safe caregiving; normal aging, well-being and successful aging. The program also teaches the basics of equipment including walkers, wheelchairs, bedside commodes and gait belts; and of memory loss, cognitive impairment and dementia.

After the completion of the course, participants will be connected to an agency for screening, orientation and possible employment at that agency. If that connection doesn’t work out, the Purpose Project team will help establish a relationship with another agency.

“Our program is for retirees, for stay-at-home parents, for students with time in their schedules. During the pandemic, so many have learned that life is bigger than themselves but so many volunteer opportunities remain closed at this point,” said Miller. “Helping older adults is a privilege and bringing together those who can help with those who need it, it’s a win-win.”

The caretaking role the Purpose Project fills is not one of medical assistance or personal care, but rather of companionship, conversation, errand-running or escorting to appointments, watching television, playing cards or cooking together.

The Purpose Project provides training for caregivers to assist and support older adults, to help alleviate social isolation, assist with nutrition and meals, help with fall prevention and provide empathy. Cues from the program help the prospective companion to make a good first impression, to be attentive as well as intuitive and to understand the importance of worthiness and purpose.

“Those who complete our program are harnessed with the tools for success but in the case a match isn’t the best match, for either the companion or the client, then we can easily reset,” said Miller. “These are paid positions, perhaps more than in dollars, in soul. The only prerequisite is that the companion wants to do something meaningful, to give back and to connect with people in an act of service.”

For more information, or to register for the Purpose Project training, visit jointhepurposeproject.com.

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  1. Clancy Falk

    Hi Laurie. I hope to hear more about this training. I had retired from education and rehabilitation for the visually impaired 16 years ago, and did a variety of short term activities with disabled and other older folks. I have been a caregiver for about 10 years.
    I haven’t driven for about 5 years, which, after an accident, other drivers around Oak Cliff appreciate. I am 70, and can use a variety of the current (and developing) public transportation services available.
    I am not sure how much time I will be able to commit to, but I am interested in this project.

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