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Appalachian’s Department of Sociology and Social Work Will Oversee Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion Programs

052103seniors_dl.jpgBOONE–Appalachian State University’s Department of Sociology and Social Work has received a $620,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to assume sponsorship of two long established programs serving the elderly and children with special needs in a five-county area.The Foster Grandparent Program, begun in 1980, and the Senior Companion Program, begun in 1988, had served clients in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga and Wilkes counties under the auspices of New River Behavioral HealthCare. Restructuring of mental health programs mandated by the state’s mental health system reform bill means agencies such as New River can no longer operate programs not directly related to their core services.

“After discussions with New River Behavioral HealthCare, we decided to sponsor the program because of the service it provides to children and elderly in the region and the opportunities it offers our department in terms of faculty and student research, and internship opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students,” said Lorin A. Baumhover, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Social Work.

The award means the two programs will continue to operate in the same five-county region for the next year as Appalachian Senior Programs. Baumhover, who also will be executive director of the program, is confident that the grant will be renewed when the initial one-year award ends in June 2004.

The Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program provides low- and middle-income volunteers age 60 and above the opportunity to provide support services to children from infants to teenagers who have special emotional, social or educational needs. The volunteers work up to 20 hours a week, and receive a small stipend and travel and meal reimbursement for their services.

About 100 volunteers serve 400 children in the five-county area in elementary and middle schools, day care and Head Start centers, says Volunteer Services Director Wanda Brooks.

The benefits the program brings to children served by a foster grandparent are dramatic, she said.

“A lot of times the children are so far behind (in their development) until a volunteer starts working with them,” Brooks said. “Within a year they progress. Some children are so shy or for some other reason they will not speak. But they will open up to the senior volunteer, begin talking, and become better prepared to enter kindergarten.”

Older children might receive help to improve reading, math or science skills. Younger children might require help developing socialization skills, such as learning to play or get along with others, Baumhover explained.

Brooks said the attention the volunteers give the students helps them develop a higher self-esteem, which often translates into better success in school.

Benefits to the foster grandparent are just as great. “It’s remarkable how needed they feel when they become part of the Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program,” Brooks said. “And the stipend helps with their economic needs. They count on those checks.”

Appalachian Senior Companion Program volunteers do simple chores, provide transportation to medical appointments and offer social contact to the homebound and those in nursing homes or other institutions. They also receive a stipend and transportation and meal reimbursements.

Currently there are 56 volunteers in the program who have served 187 clients in the past six months, says program director Debbie Wellborn.

Like foster grandparents, the volunteers are age 60 or older. They go into individual homes, adult day care centers, skilled nursing centers and hospitals. “The volunteers prepare meals for clients living at home, arrange doctor’s office visits, check on clients’ nutrition and medication intake and provide the emotional support needed to help the client remain in the home,” Wellborn said.

They also help clients transition from their home to retirement or assisted living facilities or with a long-term hospital stay.

“A lot of our clients don’t have any family, or their family members can’t leave the workplace to help when problems arise. The senior companion can relieve a lot of the stress families in these situations experience,” Wellborn said.

In addition to the Corporation for National and Community Service grant, the programs also received funding from the United Way of Wilkes County and High Country United Way.

For more information call Baumhover at (828) 262-2201, or Brooks and Wellborn at (336) 246-4898.

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Picture Caption: Jean Towers, left, listens as Doris Cummines reads a birthday card Towers’ received for her 90th birthday. Cummines is a volunteer with the Appalachian Senior Companion program in which senior citizens do simple chores, provide transportation to medical appointments and offer social contact to the homebound and those in nursing homes or other institutions. Appalachian State University’s Department of Sociology and Social Work will oversee the Appalachian Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs beginning in July. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)