James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

READ MORE »

Community Caregiver’s Network (CCN) Wins National Award

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: October 7, 2009

CCN AwardNursing students earned national recognition for assisting families in the community who are taking care of elderly adults.

This summer the Community Caregiver’s Network (CCN), a volunteer program sponsored partly by JMU and staffed primarily by student volunteers, received the 2009 National Family Caregiving Award. Given to seven recipients nationwide, the award, sponsored by MetLife Foundation and the National Alliance for Caregiving, recognizes community-based programs that provide exceptional support for families caring for elderly adults.

CCN works in Rockingham, Augusta, Shenandoah and Page counties to assist families with services ranging from telephone support and educational workshops on caring for aging family members, to running errands for caretakers and making regular in-home visits to provide companionship.

About 70 percent of CCN’s client base suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. In addition, most caregivers are immediate family members and 80 percent are female spouses. Because caregiving is constant and demanding, CCN’s in-home visits and assistance with care and errands come as a welcome break.

According to Program Director Kathleen Pantaleo, the plight of caregivers like “hanging on [to a knotted rope] for your dear life and you slip down to the next knot, and you get to the last knot, and after that the rope is really frayed - that’s kind of where a caregiver is a lot of the time when we enter the picture.”

Dr. Merle Mast and other members of the JMU Nursing Department created CCN in response to survey results from local caregivers gathered in 2000, which revealed the community’s need for a “sliding scale” respite service that allowed clients to pay only what their financial means could support. CCN was founded to receive client referrals from hospices, Rockingham County Memorial Hospital and home health nurses who recognize clients in need of additional check-ins, or whose caretakers are in need of a break. CCN is especially important to community members in lower income brackets who can’t afford to pay a professional caregiving agency for respite services.

“That’s the niche that we fill,” Pantaleo said. “We really do serve people that would probably go without if we didn’t exist…I think that the institute and what they offer the community is one of the best kept secrets in Harrisonburg.”

Pantaleo joined CCN in January of 2008 as the Assistant Program Director and became Program Director in June, replacing the former director who had served the organization for nearly ten years.

“It’s been a challenging semester so far but I think it’s been a good one,” Pantaleo said of the transition, which has required some additional flexibility on her part. “As a director one of the things I’ve learned is that you’re kind of on call 24/7,” she adds. “I’ve got students going out Monday through Thursday and then on Sunday, so we have to deal with things as they come up.”

Last semester the program’s enrollment peaked, with two directors overseeing 92 students. This year is just as busy. The program carries anywhere from 30 to 45 families at a time, and their services are spreading.

“This semester we have quite a few clients out in the Elkton area,” Pantaleo said, “I think it’s because it’s a rural area and there aren’t a lot of resources out there, so a lot of these people have been referred to me by the social worker at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.”

Even with a growing client base, finding volunteers has not been an issue. While funding limits have decreased the program’s capacity, this semester there are 42 nursing and other health and human services discipline students enrolled. Each contributes 45 hours in a semester, almost twice as much as most one-credit elective courses. Although the course is open to students of all majors, it is especially popular for those in health sciences, gerontology and social work because of the field experience it provides.

The “standard package” offered to clients is two to four hours a week of in-home visits from students, who work in pairs to better handle the potential difficulties of caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which affect about 70% of CCN’s client base. The volunteers are first trained in a two-hour orientation class where they learn how to use the program’s “creative toolkits” to plan activities that will make their visits as enjoyable as possible. Devised and researched in part by Mast and Erika Metzler-Sawin of the Nursing Department, these toolkits use music, “reminiscence,” aromatherapy and arts and crafts to stimulate the senses of homebound elderly clients.

For example, reminiscence activities include looking through the program’s collection of magazines, dating from the ‘70s to the ‘30s.

“It’s really fascinating for the students to see Jackie O in her pearls on the cover of Look Magazine,” Pantaleo added, “and the clients go, ‘Oh, I remember when…’ and have their stories to share.” Through these activities, clients can enjoy CDs of big band performances, games, puzzles, seasonal craft projects and exercise equipment like resistance bands. Volunteers have found the aromatherapy to be most effective. They provide facials, hand massages and scented oils to engage the senses in patients whose cognitive abilities are weakening.

Pantaleo said the clients respond positively to the weekly “shot of youth” that interaction with student volunteers brings them, and that the students benefit from the interaction as well.

"The most rewarding feeling was at the end of the visit hearing both clients tell us that they had a lot of fun and can’t wait for us to come back,” junior Nursing student Anthony Santalucia said of his volunteering time. “Little things like that mean the world to me, it’s so nice to know that our three hours a week can have a positive impact on these fine women’s lives."

Pantaleo agrees that the program offers JMU students a hands-on way to contribute to the wellbeing of the area, as well giving community members a different and positive look at what students can offer.
“It’s just phenomenal the number of hours of student service that this whole place facilitates for this community,” Pantaleo said.

CCN’s work doesn’t stop with the end of the school year. Throughout the summer and over school holidays the program offers ongoing support by telephone, and relies on community volunteers to care for the clients most in need. There are also bereavement support services available to caretakers, and CCN stays in contact with families to assist with the related issues they face after the death of a family member. The program maintains partnerships with local faith-based organizations, and can also refer families toassisted living agencies or make recommendations for facility-based care.

Since CCN is partnered with JMU’s Institute for Innovation for Health and Human Services, it previously received the majority of its funding through the Virginia Department for the Aging and the United Way of Virginia, but this year that support has decreased, forcing the staff to downsize.This prompted its program directors to write and apply for the National Family Caregiving Award, which came with a $25,000 prize. Unfortunately this is not a permanent fix, and neither is fundraising alone. For this reason, Pantaleo said her main goal at CCN is to find a new long-term source of funding to support its nonprofit services.

“It’s getting tougher with the economy the way it is, companies are not as forthcoming because they’re getting crunched economically and they don’t have the philanthropic dollars, just like individuals who have contributed in the past,” Pantaleo said. “I would love to feel like we were secure.”

Uncertainties aside, the role that CCN plays in the community, as well as in the learning experiences of students, won’t lose its impact anytime soon.

“I think everybody wins when these visits click in and the caregivers are getting their needs met, the clients are getting their needs met, and I think it’s meeting a need for the students, too,” Pantaleo said. “It never ceases to amaze me, the magic of that intergenerational experience.”