A Divine Intervention at the Needham Council on Aging
It may have been divine intervention from the Sisters of Notre Dame that led Kerrie Attwood to social work, but we like to think the foundation played a part in that journey that has now led her to the Needham Council on Aging.
After graduating from Salve Regina University, Kerrie decided to volunteer for AmeriCorps. She taught English and computer courses for new immigrants at the Notre Dame Education Center, an adult literacy center founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Boston. Working closely with the sisters, Kerrie witnessed their dedication and compassion to serve and empower the poor. She saw students gain self-confidence and pursue their goal of a better life for themselves and their families. Kerrie was also struck by the remarkable patience and kindness of the Sisters to care for older adults, and believes that experience was a major influence in her decision to pursue a career in social work.
Scholarship assistance from the foundation helped Kerrie return to school to complete her MSW at the University of Denver. With a strong desire to give back to her community, she returned home to Bellingham to care for those in hospice care and assisted living. More recently Kerrie began work as a clinical social worker at the Center at the Heights in Needham under a foundation grant. Jamie Gutner, the Needham Council On Aging director who hired Kerrie said, “I think the foundation’s scholarship committee saw what I saw in Kerrie - a great investment! Her educational background and past experience with older adults is invaluable. Kerrie is working hard to change what healthy aging looks like in the town. We are seeing an increase in complex mental health issues, social isolation, grief from losing a spouse, substance use and intergenerational family conflicts - all that require ongoing support and connections with community partners.”
Through the grant, the Council has expanded social work availability in the evening, and Kerrie is also organizing evening workshops on topics such as substance use, mindfulness and stress management. A typical day for Kerrie may include helping an older adult that feels alone and isolated in their home, to helping a spouse find caregiving resources for their partner. “These issues can be overwhelming and a huge adjustment for many residents” says Kerrie. “It all goes back to bringing positive change into the lives of individuals that I saw in the work of the Sisters of Notre Dame.”
Respite for Family Caregivers: A Sustainable Model Providing Vital Support
Gladys used to love crossword and jigsaw puzzles, but as her dementia worsened she stopped doing her puzzles along with many other activities she once loved. Her husband, Tom is her sole caregiver. He is retired and spends all his time taking care of his wife, leaving him little time to socialize with friends or even run errands without worrying Gladys will not be safe at home alone. He heard about the Franklin Council on Aging’s Companion Caregivers In-Home Respite Program and reached out to find out more information. Like many caregivers, he was reluctant to leave Gladys with someone he did not know, and Gladys was not happy about her husband leaving her side.
The respite supervisor has seen this dynamic before when visiting caregivers to answer questions about the program and address their concerns. She emphasized the need for respite to alleviate Tom’s stress and maintain his health. To help caregivers feel more at ease about the service, the first visit is offered free of charge. Tom decided to leave for only an hour and see how it went. He came home to find Gladys and her companion starting a jigsaw puzzle. The companion now comes twice a week giving Tom time for himself and Gladys the opportunity to connect with someone other than her husband. Both have thrived with the support of their companion.
Older adults with chronic illness are most commonly cared for by their family members. Informal caregivers can be spouses, adult children or grandchildren, siblings, extended family or friends. AARP estimates there are 1.26 informal caregivers in Massachusetts. Caregivers too often face lost wages and deteriorating mental and physical health as a result of the strain of their caregiving responsibilities. The ability to take a break to pursue their own interests or simply run errands without worrying about their loved one’s safety and well-being is essential for all caregivers. However, it can be hard to find that time when respite care is often prohibitively expensive and there may not be other family members able or willing to offer even short-term help.
For residents on Franklin and Bellingham, relief has come from Companion Caregivers In-Home Respite Program. The program was launched in 2013 with support from the foundation. It offers informal caregivers of older adults, like Tom, up to four hours a week or respite care for well below market rates. Trained companions provide the care in the person’s home. The program has grown to provide care to 23 older adults with chronic illness. The numbers fluctuate often given the unstable nature of the care recipient’s health, so constant outreach is essential. A Memory Café has also been introduced as an offshoot of the program, offering a supportive social environment for caregivers and their loved ones.
The team consists of the Respite Care Coordinator, three paid companions, and two companions who are employed through the town’s tax work-off program. The program is in its third and final year of foundation funding but will be sustained through a grant from the Department of Elder Affairs as well as reserves generated through foundation funding and the tax work-off program.
Lovin' Spoonfuls Brings Over 26,000 Pounds of Wholesome Food to Twenty-Two MetroWest Sites
Anthony Suma, the new MetroWest region driver for Lovin’ Spoonfuls, has been working hard over the last two months. Anthony, in his brand new truck nicknamed “Mamie,” has picked up and delivered 26,593 pounds of fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy to local nonprofits working to reduce hunger in our region. Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a food rescue organization based in Boston, has expanded into the MetroWest region with a three-year grant from a funding collaborative that includes the MetroWest Health Foundation, Sudbury Foundation, Middlesex Savings Bank Charitable Foundation, and Foundation for MetroWest.
The mission of Lovin’ Spoonfuls is simple- take fresh, healthy food that would otherwise be thrown away and bring it to those struggling to put food on their table. Lovin’ Spoonfuls has built partnerships with ten grocery stores in the area, including BJ’s, Hannaford, Roche Bros, Stop & Shop, Wegman’s and Whole Foods. They pick food that cannot be sold, but is still usable, and deliver it to 22 local food pantries, shelters and meal programs across MetroWest. The model not only increases fresh foods being offered, but also plays an important role in reducing food waste. Americans waste approximately 40% of food that is produced or 1,400 calories per person per day. Eliminating food waste would go a long way to eliminating hunger and malnutrition.
The feedback from local agencies receiving deliveries and their consumers highlights the strong appetite for whole, healthy foods. One program director remarked that “before we even put the food away, the guys were tearing into it. Everyone really appreciates it.” Some agencies have started cooking classes and are giving out recipes featuring the new foods they are distributing thanks to the partnership. Over the past several years, food pantries and meal programs are changing the way they think about hunger relief. They are not just focused on providing enough calories for survival, but on offering foods high in nutrition. The types of foods we choose to eat has major health implications. With the help of Lovin’ Spoonfuls, agencies in MetroWest are now able to offer a wider variety of healthy choices. Our grant to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, along with those of our funding partners, are another example of the region’s commitment to community health.
MetroWest YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program:
Improving the Health of Generations
Richard was told by his doctor that he was at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. He knew he needed to change his lifestyle and was looking for a program to support him. He had tried exercise and diet programs on his own but found it difficult to make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve his health. After 9 months in the program he was able to learn strategies and gain the support needed to improve his health and even motivate those around him. One of Richard’s biggest barriers was making these changes in the presence of his family. No one in his household exercised and they weren’t making healthy food choices. Working as a group with the other members of the program and the lifestyle coach, he was able to implement an action plan that resulted in significantly healthier family meals and his son joining him for workouts at the Y. To date Richard has lost 41.9 lbs (14.6% of his bodyweight) and is regularly completing 150 min/per week of physical activity.
The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program is a one year long CDC approved curriculum that helps prevent people with prediabetes from developing type 2 diabetes. The programs consists of 24 one hour sessions with 16 weekly sessions followed by 8 monthly sessions. A lifestyle coach facilitates a group of supportive people with common goals to help reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes. The goals of the program are to reduce body weight by 7% and increase physical activity to at least 150 min/per week.
At the MetroWest YMCA two classes are underway: 5 participants have completed 21 sessions with a combined reduction in bodyweight of 8.1% and a new class has begun with 9 participants. Additionally, 170 people in the MetroWest community have been screened for prediabetes and educated about the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. The funding from the foundation has enabled the MetroWest YMCA to offer this important program at an affordable price and increase the community awareness of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
For more information about the program please see www.metrowestymca.org or call 508-879-4420.
Small Grant - Big Impact
Last summer, the foundation provided a small grant of $5,400 to the Counseling Center at Framingham State University to enable "gatekeepers" at the school to be trained in a program called Campus Connect. Developed at Syracuse University, Campus Connect enhances gatekeepers' knowledge, awareness, and skills concerning college student suicide.
Who are gatekeepers? Gatekeepers are those individuals who are in regular contact with students and as a result of that contact, are in position to assist in identifying and referring students in crisis to the appropriate mental health resources. On a college campus this may include student leaders, wellness center staff, faculty or campus police officers.
The Campus Connect training increases gatekeepers' knowledge about students in a suicidal crisis, with emphasis placed on developing empathetic listening skills, communication skills, and the ability to compassionately and directly ask students about their suicidal thoughts. Through increased awareness of their own emotional reactions, Campus Connect gatekeepers are able to more effectively respond to student's emotional needs and increase the likelihood of a meaningful connection with appropriate professional resources.
At Framingham State University, 73 individuals have been trained in Campus Connect, including all Resident Assistants. The Counseling Center is also working on "postvention" training designed to enhance the skills of those who respond to an actual crisis event.
More information about the program can be found at the FSU Counseling Center's website.