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A little over a year ago, Stacy Self got a phone call that changed her life.

Her father, longtime Ruskin businessman Sam Cook, had been horribly injured in a car accident. His injuries included brain damage and dozens of broken bones.

She and her mother spent the next several months as her father's caregivers.

"Your entire life changes in an instant," Self said. "I now look at my life from a 'before the accident' and 'after the accident' standpoint." Her father has recovered fully from his injuries and is back to work running Sam Cook's Home Service Centre.

Self now runs a nonprofit organization called Hand to Hope Inc., devoted to helping other caregivers. When Self and her mother suddenly became caregivers, they had to search for resources and educate themselves about the complexities of Medicare, insurance and health care as they went along.

Hand to Hope, which opened in February, hosts a website that makes it easier for caregivers to find the resources and information vital to their work.

"There are so many resources out there," Self said. "The difficulty was in finding those resources."

Different kinds of caregivers have different needs, Self said, but Hand to Hope aims to serve all of them, whether they're caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease, cancer, or someone who has been physically or mentally impaired.

One often-overlooked aspect of serving caregivers, Self said, is the need to provide them with occasional respite from their 24-hour-a-day duties. So Hand to Hope plans to sponsor an annual luncheon for area caregivers. The first is scheduled for July 31 at the Embassy Suites on Palm River Road.

A trade show with products and services useful to caregivers will start at 9 a.m. The luncheon, which is free to caregivers, starts at noon.

Self, who is currently the honorary mayor of Ruskin, said one goal of the luncheon is to give caregivers, who can easily become isolated, a chance to meet other people in similar situations.

"There were so many times when you just want to pick up the phone and talk to someone who understands what you're going through," Self said.

For information about Hand to Hope or the Caregivers Trade Show and Luncheon, go to

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