HEIDELBERG, Germany Aca,!" Take a moment to walk in the shoes of Sgt. 1st Class Angela Blakeney, an Army nurse working as a medial liaison officer at a major Army command.

Her husband is deployed for the second time in 3-1/2 years. She has 4-year-old twins who both have a speech delay, meaning only a few people can understand them. Now, for good measure, throw in a pending retirement and preparations for a permanent change of station move to Texas, and you've got a recipe for stress.

"I have to keep everything on schedule during the weekdays, or I'd go crazy," Blakeney said.

Enter the Army's Respite Care program for eligible families with exceptional family members.

"It gives you a break," Blakeney said, "a well-deserved break."

Respite Care provides time off for family members who care for someone with a special need, either physical or emotional, according to a Heidelberg Army Community Service brochure.

The program, funded through the Army Family Covenant, is a broad-based program that meets the needs of a diverse exceptional family member population.
Janet Skeem is a mother of three children, ages 4, 2 and 10 months, and she has cancer.

She has had several surgeries which require her to be away from home for extended periods, and she has had multiple radiation therapy treatments that she describes as debilitating.

"I'm pretty self-reliant and head strong," Skeem said, "but I had to accept help.
"My first inclination was to go with someone who my kids already knew and were familiar with ... I have a great friend who was willing to help."

Skeem's neighbor, Savannah Simms, has been helping Skeem since she came home from her first surgery in May 2007.

"Our relationship with their family is very close," Skeem said, mentioning that Simms was in the delivery room when she gave birth to her youngest child, and that her children refer to Simms as their aunt.

Since November, Simms has been Skeem's respite care provider, and getting paid for helping her friend.

"I wasn't aware it was available for myself," Skeem said. "I thought it was for special children, not for a care giver."

"The respite care program has tremendous flexibility," said Helena Palmer, EFMP program manager for Heidelberg.

Another way respite care is flexible is that it doesn't have to be provided in a home setting.

Blakeney's son, Aaron, receives respite care every weekday at the Patrick Henry Village Child Development Center.

"My son is a very active boy," Blakeney said.

Patricia Robinson visits Aaron's class during nap time, working with him on learning skills such as letter sounds.

In addition to Aaron's CDC hours, Blakeney has also used respite care for some personal down time.

"I was reluctant to use the program," Blakeney admitted. "I felt guilty for not spending time with them."

With Palmer's encouragement, Blakeney has used respite care to participate in parent's night out and parent's day out.

"It's nice to be around people my own age and have conversations not about SpongeBob," Blakeney said.

Before respite care, both families paid someone for home care. The Blakeneys hired a nanny during a previous deployment, and the Skeems hired a babysitter following her earlier surgeries.

"I've absolutely seen a cost savings, but that's not why I did it," Blakeney said, noting the training her providers bring to the table. "It's nice for the lower enlisted who can struggle with childcare," Blakeney said.

The program also provides funding for other related events, such a the Exceptional Family Member Program Summer Activity held July 14-18, as well as other enrichment programs, which provide relief for primary care givers.

For the Skeem and Blakeney families, respite care has been a blessing.

"Having respite care, and a good provider, has given me something to fall back on (when I am not feeling well)," Skeem said.

"I'm glad respite care came along," Blakeney said. "I have recommended it to a friend."