BUCKHANNON – A community favorite each year, which incidentally makes a wonderful Christmas gift, is the Band of Brothers calendar. But did you know that by purchasing these, you’re helping those in Upshur County that are in need?
And this year, the Christian men’s group, Band of Brothers, has selected a new program to be on the receiving end of their project. The Healthy Grandfamilies program, which is a collaborative with the Upshur County Family Resource Network and the Upshur County Senior Center, was developed through the West Virginia State University.
“The Band of Brothers annually sells calendars for $15 a piece,” said Upshur County Senior Center Director Sarah Campbell. “The photos are taken by local award-winning photographer Al Tucker. They use the funds the calendars generate to do local ministry and mission.”
Campbell said this year, the group decided that the funds generated by the calendar sales will be split between the Healthy Grandfamilies program and Young Life.
Lori Ulderich Harvey, executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network, said the Healthy Grandfamilies Program is an initiative through West Virginia State University. In Upshur County, her office is partnering with the Upshur County Senior Center to set up the program for the county.
“Over 50 percent of Upshur County foster families have the grandparents or great-grandparents caring for the kids,” Harvey said. “There is a real need to get information out to the families. Over nine weeks, there are nine sessions. We feed those attending, and there is childcare if needed. We discuss topics like technology and social media, navigating the legal system, nutrition, navigating the education system and substance abuse.”
Campbell said the program is important to Upshur County because over the last several years, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren – not only in Upshur County, but also across West Virginia – has significantly increased.
“Our senior population in Upshur County is about 20 percent, and according to the last statistics predicted in our county, there are approximately 450 families where grandparents are raising their grandchildren,” Campbell said.
Harvey said the program focuses on helping grandparents keep abreast of technology.
“The discussions help the grandparents with that,” she said. “This is for the youngest grandparents clear through those in their 70s or 80s who are trying to take care of grandkids.”
Harvey said folks should come and listen to the information and interact with others.
“At the end of the nine weeks, there is a social worker who follows up with the families for 12 weeks. What we are really trying to get people to understand is, we are not trying to check up on you. It is to help families find resources to connect them to the people they need to go to, or if the child is having difficulty with trauma or a learning disability, hook them up with the right people to get the right services, and possibly get them services they did not know they were available for including WIC or TANF or the medical card.”
Campbell and Harvey are working together to get the program started in Upshur County.
“She and I are working together as best we can,” Harvey said. “She calls it a coalition, and I call it a steering committee. We had our first meeting last Thursday, and we identified folks throughout the county who could present the programs, when would be the best times to have the meetings and this should be put together and begin early to mid-next year.”
Both said their goal is to have the program lined up and being offering sessions in the Spring of 2020.
The proposed location will be the Upshur County Senior Center and Harvey said they are looking for several churches, and perhaps restaurants, interested in assisting by providing food for the sessions.
Once the first sessions have been organized, folks may enroll by filling out a referral form. Harvey said she and Campbell are trying to recruit grandfamilies who might benefit from the program through making contacts at the Senior Center, teachers who work in the Upshur County School System and the Upshur Parish House.
“Teachers know their families, along with the Parish House,” Harvey said. “There are about 8,000 kids in foster care in WV, but we don’t know the real number because we have an estimate of about 500 who are not asking for any assistance whatsoever because they are afraid the kids will be taken from them. So, we are trying to get that across. We are not going to check on you; we just want you to come and learn.”
Campbell said the world has changed tremendously since the Senior Center first opened their doors.
“We want to make sure we are continuing to provide the services we need to be providing,” Campbell said. “We think this is one of the programs we should be helping with.”
Along with the sessions, families will have follow-up by a social worker – and Campbell said she hopes people will not hear that and think, “Oh my goodness.”
“The reality is, this program isn’t here to tell you how to live your life or tell you how to take care of your grandchildren,” Campbell said. “It’s here to say, ‘we know this is difficult, and we know things have changed, and we want to put resources in your hands and answer questions you may have.’”
Harvey said she was recently in a meeting with Mountaineer Foodbank when one of their representatives said the two main demographics the organization is feeding are kids and seniors.
“He asked, ‘what we can give them that they will both eat?’ and two, what can the grandparents prepare for the kids or what can the kids prepare for the grandparents?” Harvey recounted.
“That’s what FRNs do – they find a service gap in their community and try to fill it,” she added. “There are big gaps in service in our county – Sarah sees it, I see it and we are going forward. That’s what the FRNs are charged with – to find service gaps, to fill the needs of finding resources for our children and families and other community members,” Harvey said.
According to their website, the Healthy Grandfamilies is a free initiative led by West Virginia State University to provide information and resources to grandparents who are raising one or more grandchildren. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Each session provides valuable resources along with childcare for attendees and refreshments. Upon completion of the program, participants will receive a certificate of completion, a gift card and three months of follow-up services with a licensed social worker.
To read more about the program and specific topics covered, click here.