By Theda Pittman
For Senior Voice 

Senior Companion, Foster Grandparent programs put on hold


Alaska Community Services, Inc. disclosed that it discontinued its Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs as of April 30, 2013.

According to Executive Director Brenda Bogowith, the agency voluntarily relinquished their federal grants to operate the programs prior to their end date due to a monitoring site visit conducted in February 2012. The findings of that site visit resulted in programmatic and compliance issues which are currently under discussion with federal funding agency officials at the Corporation for National and Community Services (CNCS). In the interim, Alaska Community Services will remain a non-profit entity and intends to resume programs in the future.

CNCS is expected to issue Requests for Proposals by the end of May 2013 for the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs to be awarded in September. Alaska Community Services is unsure as if it will apply for these federal grants. The agency has administered the programs throughout the state for over 20 years, Bogowith said.

The Foster Grandparent program allows low-income seniors to volunteer at day care centers, Head Start, and elementary schools throughout Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks and rural Alaskan villages for a small stipend. These senior volunteers also receive mileage and a meal or reimbursement for a brown bag lunch. They mentor youth, providing assistance to improve academic performance in reading or math as well as assist with developing positive social skills.

Recipients of such services often lack positive role models to reinforce their successes. These foster grandparents (and “Elder Mentors” as referred to in the villages) encourage them to persevere when they are having difficulties.

Senior companions are volunteers whose efforts assist seniors to remain in their own homes and maintain independence and improved quality of life. These companions also work with seniors who are homebound or in assisted living to participate in community activities and social opportunities available to them.

The CNCS online profile of Alaska services, as of March 2013, reports that there were 134 foster grandparents working at 39 locations with over 1,500 at-risk youth funded by a grant of over $437,000. The Senior Companion program for Alaska is described as involving 63 volunteers in 17 locations serving over 840 people with a grant of over $191,000.

The Foster Grandparent and the Senior Companion programs are two of three activities funded in Alaska under the CNCS umbrella of Senior Corps. The third, RSVP, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, operates on about $100,000. AmeriCorps, which includes VISTA, is also funded by CNCS with $2.8 million, nearly four times as much as the total for the three Senior Corps programs.

Bogowith said the compliance questions do not involve criminal activities. One of the issues, for example, is the participation of volunteers from federally funded programs who provide services to residents in state licensed agencies such as the Pioneer Home. Alaska Community Services would like to be able to continue assistance in such locations but will have to develop alternative funding to continue that work under a different program that does not receive federal funding, or re-establish such services in partnership with another organization.

One of the strengths mentioned in the reports were the program directors and delivery of services to the community. The caliber of satisfaction of the volunteers was also highly acknowledged in the report.

Bogowith, who began work at Alaska Community Services in January 2013, believes some of the problems CNCS cited in its review of the first six months of 2011 may have been the result of lack of information or notice provided to the staff; the implementation of a more narrow interpretation and application of regulations by the CNCS; new regulations and performance measures; and the unique nature of operating in rural Alaska.

Larger issues may exist at the federal level concerning whether these and similar programs are continued at all or at substantially reduced levels. A third service offered by Alaska Community Services was the Elder Mentor program, which had a much smaller budget than Senior Companions and Foster Grandparents and which was on a different funding cycle. Bogowith indicated that earlier this year her agency and another one in Alaska both applied. However, neither was awarded the funding.


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