Foster Grandparent Volunteer: Georgia Neal
QUESTION: What peaked your interest in joining the Foster Grandparents Program that Catholic Charities offers?
ANSWER: When my grandson was entering kindergarten, I noticed that he was lacking a good self-image and was not very confident in himself. I then asked my daughter if I could start volunteering at his school to be a support system for him there. I come from an education background and thought my training could assist him. Around the same time my husband died. I felt very lonely and wanted an activity to keep my mind and body engaged. Something I could look forward to each day. While volunteering at Eden Grove, the principal there suggested that I become a Foster Grandparent volunteer with Catholic Charities. At this time, I had not heard of the program, but decided to join.
QUESTION: How long have you been a part of the program now?
ANSWER: Since September 2009
QUESTION: Where are you currently a Foster Grandparent?
ANSWER: I’m currently a Foster Grandparent volunteer at the Academy of Junior Scholars. The school used to be Eden Grove Elementary, but the school closed and became the Academy of Junior Scholars.
QUESTION: Have you had other Foster Grandparents you’ve worked with?
ANSWER: I’m actually on the Senior Corps Advisory board, which gives advice and comments to all Senior Corps programs. I’m often asked to meet with new Foster Grandparents during their orientation with Catholic Charities to answer any questions they have and share my experience. I also meet with other Foster Grandparents during in-service each month.
QUESTION: Tell us about your favorite moment in being a Foster Grandparent?
ANSWER: I enjoy supporting, engaging, and encouraging students each day. I love watching a child’s light go off when they understand something they have been struggling with or when they start to be themselves. I also believe it is so important to build relationships with staff at the school and students because it creates an understanding of one another. Along with that, it helps each person understand his or her role.
QUESTION: Would you recommend the program to your friends?
ANSWER: Yes! I believe the program is a good motivator for others and myself. I honestly look forward to going to school everyday. I truly believe that Foster Grandparent volunteers are good for schools, teachers, and students and feel in my role that I work for the common good of all each day.
QUESTION: What is your proudest accomplishment as a Foster Grandparent?
ANSWER: Being recognized in the Cincinnati Enquirer in October of 2015 for what I do in the Foster Grandparent program
Making the World Better, One Child at a Time
Lillian Smith was one of seven daughters growing up in a home with loving parents. Her father worked hard to take care of them. She grew up with everything she needed and has lived her entire life in Cincinnati’s West End.
When she retired for working as a teacher’s assistant for Cincinnati Public Schools in 2000, Lillian decided she would not be content sitting at home watching TV and talking on the phone. She felt called to serve others.
Lillian decided to be a Foster Grandparent with Catholic Charities and to share her love with at-risk, youth in public day care and school environments.
“Everybody is a child of God. It’s rewarding to see the joy on the face of these children. We help each other,” Lillian said. She serves as a Foster Grandparent at Rockdale Elementary assisting students in the Special Needs classes. “My heart goes out to them. Some don’t have grandparents. Some cannot speak but they react when I tell them that I love them.”
Lillian says her only wish is there were more Foster Grandparents in the program to serve more children. The need is great.
“I believe the world will be a better place if we help each other,” Lillian said. And Lillian is doing that one child at a time.
Learn more about Foster Grandparents.
Caregivers Create Friendships
Rose sits peacefully with Chris, sharing coffee and fresh-baked cinnamon cake just days before Christmas. They reminisce over the friendships that are formed over the last 14 years at the Caregiver Assistance Network support group sponsored by Catholic Charities at Bayley Place.
“My husband passed away nine years ago and our anniversary was coming up. I shared how we had always gone out to dinner and I guess my voice changed as I spoke,” Rose said. “The next thing I know everyone wanted to go out to dinner with me.”
More than a dozen support group members met Rose at O’Charleys. Her son and his family joined them as he wanted to meet his mother’s new friends.
Chris said, “Friendships are formed here. We enjoy each other’s friendship. Even when spouses pass away, their caregivers continue to come to the support group to support other caregivers who have become friends.”
It’s common for caregivers to neglect tending to their own needs when they’re caring for a loved one. The loved one takes priority and sometimes this takes a toll on the caregiver’s health or leads to isolation. This is where the Caregiver Assistance Network provides valuable support and respite for the caregiver.
Sometimes the loved one becomes so dependent on the caregiver they feel helpless when left alone.
“My husband would wait by the window for me. Once I went to the grocery store and ran into an old friend. We started talking,” Rose said. She explained how terrible she felt when she returned home and realized how much her husband had missed her. He died six days later.
“It’s the little things that haunt us,” Chris, a social worker who facilitates the group with the experience of caring for her terminally ill husband. “One of our members described how much her husband enjoyed colored lights on the Christmas tree because the multi-colored lights reminded him of his childhood. His wife and caregiver also preferred white lights. Later, after he passed away, she regretted not giving him a Christmas tree with multi-colored lights. The Caregiver Assistance Network assists caregivers in working through issues such as regrets and the stresses of caregiving through support groups and workshops. Many support group facilitators are former caregivers whose loved one have passed away or no longer needs care.
If you’re a caregiver or know a caregiver who may enjoy meeting new friends, learn more about Catholic Charities Caregiver Assistance Network and support groups in your area.
Regaining Freedom of Movement
Once active and independent, Anna relies on a walker now to maneuver gingerly through her home. She had twisted her foot, and the injury weakened her. But now with the support of her Senior Companion, Anna is regaining strength through aqua therapy twice a week.
“In the water, I can walk again, I have more freedom. It’s liberating,” Anna, a former lifeguard, says. “I couldn’t do this without Betty.”
Betty, the Senior Companion provided by Catholic Charities, takes Anna to aqua therapy and makes sure she changes safely in the slippery shower room. Anna, a former teacher at Annunciation, explains, “Betty keeps me from falling. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have been active your entire life and suddenly be unable to do things you’re used to doing.”
Anna’s daughter recommended Catholic Charities Senior Companions, and Anna remembered how her own mother had benefited from the program in the 1990s.
“My mother was bedridden, and I was working at the time. I was gone all day. When her Senior Companion was with her, I didn’t have to worry,” Anna explained. “My daughter said I needed someone to talk to because she couldn’t always be here. Betty is really a nice woman, pleasant to talk to and will get things for me when I need them as I’m having difficulty walking. She keeps me on track when I forget things. She always remembers better than I do.”
Anna wishes more people with empathy and a calling to help others would volunteer to be Senior Companions because they make such a big difference in the lives of others.
Seniors Serving Seniors
These grace-filled people gather together over scrambled eggs, bacon and orange juice in early December to share stories and reflect on the past year at Catholic Charities annual appreciation breakfast for Senior Companions and Foster Grandparents. Joy and energy fills the Undercroft of St. Peter in Chains and warms the soul from the “lift” received by serving others.
“I love being around the kids and how they keep me busy. I leave each day feeling uplifted,” said Brenda McClure, a Foster Grandparent. Her duties go beyond grading papers and tutoring. For seven years, she’s been a Foster Grandparent for students up to the Fourth grade. Now, she’s concentrating on Kindergarten students. “I have an opportunity to make sure they get off to a good start in school.”
Wilma Burton, a Senior Companion for 10 years, recalls retiring with nothing to do. She grew bored as her days seemed endless. A friend introduced Wilma to the Senior Companion program, and it fills her days with purpose. Three days a week she spends five hours with an 89-year-old housebound woman. The two have grown close over the past six years. And the elderly woman treats Wilma like a daughter.
Wilma is there for companionship like a daughter would be – preparing meals, dressing her, taking her to doctor’s appointments and out for lunch once each month. Wilma said, “You grow attached to your companion and become like family. I never miss a birthday party, and her family invites me to special occasions.”
Another Senior Companion, Arnita Cranon, said, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done. It keeps me active. It’s uplifting to see the reaction on their faces when you come to their house to visit. They brighten up.”
Sarah Green, a Senior Companion for 15 years, appreciates the importance of enabling others to live in their own homes longer. While she’s supporting them, she said she benefits at the same time.
“I enjoy spending time with my clients because I learn so much from them. They’ve lived full lives and have so many stories to tell,” Sarah said. “Some of them are comical.”
One of Catholic Charities most senior, Senior Companions, Marion Price, treasures the time spent with her companion. Marion said, “We watch soap operas together and talk about current events. I made her some slippers, and she was so happy.”
Foster Grandparents Instill Confidence
“We love our grandmas,” says Shelley Warner of Faces without Places who has benefited from Catholic Charities Foster Grandparents program for 11 years.
Faces without Places provides educational and enrichment programming to thousands of children experiencing homelessness each year in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Believing education to be the key to breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty, the non-profit provides school stability for the approximately 6,000 children experiencing homelessness each year in Greater Cincinnati.
“It has always been such a pleasure to have these wonderfully experienced, dedicated and kind people on our team for the summer. The grandmothers provide our staff with their valuable expertise when working with inner city youth and provide our children with that little something extra that gives them greater confidence and assures them that they are supported and loved,” Warner says.
Take for example a 5-year-old camper arrives each day sad and crying. The young boy will stray from the group to be alone. If it were not for the assistance of his Foster Grandparent, Warner feared he wouldn’t make it through the day.
But the Foster Grandparent greets him each morning, holds his hand, sits next to him during meals and takes him aside when he is not willing to participate. His newfound “grandma” shows patience and continuously encourages him to do his best.
“I have seen this young man make progress just over the past week he has been with us. It’s just one example of the valuable work the grandmas are doing helping our children enjoy their summer,” Warner says. “Each day, we grow more and more fond of them, and I truly do not know what we’d do without them!”
Learn how to become or support a Foster Grandparent.
Knowing when You’re Needed
“Take care of God’s creation. But above all, take care of people in need.”
When Rita Webber first met Leo, a Russian immigrant, they hit it off immediately. He was a former Senior Companion for Catholic Charities whose vision was failing. Leo knew exactly what he needed. Rita was happy to read to him, take him grocery shopping, to the park and museums.
But one morning he called and told her not to come. He wasn’t feeling well. Really? Rita’s curiosity got the best of her and she began asking questions. The more she asked, the more concerned she became. And the more adamant Leo became that he didn’t need her.
Trusting her instincts, Rita drove to Leo’s home and found a neighbor to let her inside. It was obvious Leo needed medical attention, but he refused an ambulance. So, Rita drove him to a nearby hospital where he was admitted immediately.
Leo was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and pneumonia. If it hadn’t been for Rita’s persistence, he may not have recovered so easily. Today, they still enjoy their time together visiting museums and sharing their love for books.
Martha North loves people and has been socially active her entire life. Her husband’s death 14 years ago and her retirement last year were taking a toll on the 83-year-old.
That’s when her son-in-law reached out to Catholic Charities’ Senior Companions program. While he was Catholic, he knew Martha didn’t need to be to benefit from this free service.
“My husband thought it would be a good way to get one more person through her door once a week because she is sort of isolated,” Kelly Horner explained. Kelly visits her mother every weekend and during the week to take her to her medical appointments. But with three children of her own between the ages of two and 11, work and church commitments, it can be tough. Trying to convince her mother to move closer to them in Northern Kentucky didn’t work. Kelly said, “She wasn’t leaving her home.”
This is where Sara Erby, from Senior Companions, stepped into the picture. Sara is one of the senior volunteers at Catholic Charities who served more than 350 housebound seniors last year.
“Sara comes over to my mom’s house and sits with her. They chat and Sara makes lunch. They found out they have quilting in common. So my mom is showing Sara the old school way of quilting. They sit at the dining room quilting and having great conversations,” Kelly said.
The conversation and quilting is especially important for Martha who has Parkinson’s and heart issues that limits her ability to get out of the house as much as she would like. As a former cashier for Kroger, she enjoyed talking with customers and had regulars who would always go through her line to say hello. She worked part-time at a local dry cleaner until last year just to stay social.
“I wish I could have a companion of my own as a caregiver,” Kelly said. “Sara has been wonderful. Mom looks forward to her visits. It’s a reason to get going in the mornings. She has a planned activity.”
The unexpected added benefit is the special friendship that has formed between Martha and Sara. Kelly added, “My mom grew up in rural Kentucky and aside from work never really had a relationship with someone from a different race. She and Sara have found so much in common. Looking at the times she lived through – the segregated south – to now make such a great friend in Sara, it has been experience for her at this point in her life.”
To learn more, visit https://ccswoh.org/services/seniors/senior-companions/.
Mary Robinson is happiest when she’s encircled by children, reading to them and acting out their favorite stories at Visions Day Care on Ezzard Charles Drive in Cincinnati.
“They fight over who is going to sit on my lap. I tell them I only have room for two at a time, but I have 12 foster grandchildren,” Robinson says. She’s been serving as a Foster Grandparent through Catholic Charities for 10 years and estimates that she has fostered more than 100 children over the years. “My sister got me involved and then she passed away. I feel like she’s still with me when I volunteer.”
Robinson volunteers Monday through Friday, assisting the young children with schoolwork and art projects.
“I give them a lot of attention,” she says. “I’ve gained so much from the children. I’ve learned to be more giving.”
Minerva Marion, a foster grandparent for 15 years, agrees. She says, “You’re like an extra grandparent to these children. You’re there to encourage them, listen to them and love on them.”
Catholic Charities has been providing Foster Grandparents since 1965. We place more than 80 senior volunteers a year into 38 schools, hospitals, daycare centers, juvenile facilities and sheltered workshops to serve disadvantaged children and youth.
Our Foster Grandparents serve at-risk youth are looking for adult guidance and life meaning. To many of our volunteers, it is one of the most satisfying things in life that they will ever do. To the kids they mentor, the impact is priceless and long-lasting.
If you are a school or other youth-related organization, please consider having one of our volunteers help with your kids. Contact Kathie Smith at email@example.com or (513) 241-7745 for more information
Sometimes a senior just needs someone to sit with them and listen. And that’s what Dorothy Whitaker has been doing for the last eight years.
“They just want company. All of them can’t hold a conversation as their memory fades as you age,” Whitaker explains. She was a Senior Companion to 94-year-old Rosie for three years. “Rosie would tell the same story every day about when she was growing up. She was so funny.”
Now Rosie is in a nursing home, but Whitaker still stays in touch by phone and regular visits. She says, “You form friendships. They look forward to seeing you and really miss when you can’t be there.”
Whitaker spends a few hours two days a week with her current client who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She says you learn to be patient and flexible and focus on being a caring companion.
Catholic Charities has been offering the Senior Companion program since 1968. Each year, we pair more than 60 senior volunteers with other homebound seniors for socialization, assistance with daily activities and transportation.
The program is a great way for seniors to have an impact on the lives of other seniors. The seniors in the program serve older adults living independently in the community with the goal of preserving independence. The senior volunteers also serve seniors in independent living facilities, as well as caregivers and developmentally disabled adults.
If you are a senior who would like a companion volunteer, please contact Ruthann Cafferky at firstname.lastname@example.org or (513) 241-7745 for more information.
Seniors Serving Seniors
In business, the term “win-win” refers to successful collaboration between partners. In this corner of Ohio, “win-win” can apply to the Senior Companion Program that Catholic Charities offers the elderly.
Low-income adults age 55 and older can become senior companions to ease the loneliness and lift the spirits of the homebound elderly. They also perform simple, but vital, household duties and chores. Senior companions get something out of the program, too: new experiences, new friends – and knowing they have made a difference in someone’s life.
The Senior Companion Program has been around since 1968, initially through the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and its Administration on Aging. Catholic Charities launched a pilot program the same year. “It was so successful, the government extended the project until it became a fully funded program,” reports Celeste Walker, Director of the Senior Corps program for the agency.
Today, the Senior Companion Program is administered by a federal agency called the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Catholic Charities receives funds to cover costs to help volunteers provide assistance to the elderly. “Each year, we serve an average of 300 clients,” Walker says of Catholic Charities. “While other agencies provide companions, we are the only agency that offers the Senior Companion Program – with the distinction being our program consists of seniors serving seniors.”
Catholic Charities looks for compassionate volunteers to visit the elderly, and to help them remain as independent as they can in their own homes. These senior companions let family members know if they notice a decline in the elderly person’s health or if extra help is needed. They can give caregivers a break or run errands.
Take it from Dorothy, who lives in Mt. Healthy. “I need help getting to the doctor’s office. I’m not easy on my feet,” she explains. She contacted Catholic Charities about a year ago and appreciates the weekly help volunteer Sarah provides.
“Sarah is a lovely lady. She’s very polite,” Dorothy says. “She treats me with dignity, and she’s keeping an eye on me.” Sarah often transports Dorothy to doctors’ appointments. “It’s just little things like that, but it’s big when you can’t do it yourself,” Dorothy says.
Another senior in Mt. Healthy, Rita, learned about Catholic Charities from a friend. Now Rita values support from volunteer, Shelley Bennett. “Shelley comes on Tuesdays,” she says, and together they compile a grocery list. “She goes to the grocery, and there have been times when there may be another errand,” Rita says.
“She’s so nice, very nice. It’s great.”
Shelley retired in 2009 – and soon realized she needed to feel useful again. Then she learned about Senior Companions. By the end of 2010, she had joined a friend as a Senior Companions volunteer. “It sounded like something I would like to do,” Shelley says.
Senior companions receive 40 hours of training, which prepares them to deal with a variety of situations, including handling seniors with dementia, mental illness, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and other special needs. They can serve up to 40 hours per week. They receive mileage reimbursement and some qualify to earn a tax-free, hourly stipend. Volunteers usually spend time in private homes.
Shelley has had three clients. She shops and provides Rita transportation for errands and lunch with friends. She cooks for a Lincoln Heights woman and takes her to medical appointments. She used to read to a blind woman, who has since passed away. Shelley sees herself volunteering for the foreseeable future because “there are a lot of seniors out there who just need companionship – and I enjoy it,” she says.
That sounds like a “win-win” for everyone.
Super Senior Companion
Imagine that your father and later your husband have dementia that requires care during the day but you are required to continue working in order to provide for basic needs and health care. What do you do?
It’s this situation, where Catholic Charities’ Senior Companions program may help. The program provides senior peers who can help care for and provide socialization for seniors and others who are homebound.
In 2003, Shirley Gross, one of our senior companions, was assigned to a senior with dementia. She visited him 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, providing socialization, meals and medication monitoring. She remained with him until his death in 2011.
Three weeks later, Shirley was asked to begin providing the same service to the former client’s son-in-law, who was also suffering from dementia.
Each morning, the client’s wife picks up Shirley before she goes to work. Shirley provides socialization, meals and medication monitoring to the son-in-law all day. At the end of the day, the wife takes Shirley home. This service enables the wife to continue working with the assurance that the same quality of care that was provided to her father is now being provided to her husband.