Henrico County VA

Back in Action

A Grace Place was swirling with activity Sept. 16, as volunteers scattered throughout the Henrico facility – some with books to read, others with paintbrushes in hand – to share their time, talents and smiles with others.

It was all part of the Greater Richmond and Petersburg United Way’s annual Day of Action, during which some 300 volunteers teamed to visit 20 organizations throughout the region and lend their assistance in the form of 900 volunteer hours. The event signaled the kickoff of the United Way’s annual fundraising drive which this year seeks to raise $17 million for the local chapter and the charities to which it contributes.

At A Grace Place, volunteers from Owens and Minor, Sun Trust and Dominion broke into several groups to help clients prepare for a fashion show the next day; host a jazz trivia event for others; paint an area in need of sprucing up; and lend their smiles and assistance to AGP’s clients and staff members.

“It’s a way for volunteers to get a firsthand look at what they can do for the United Way,” said Lynne Seward, CEO of A Grace Place.

A Grace Place, a non-profit organization founded in 1969, provides daytime health services, support and activities for adults who have a wide range of special needs – from those with mental handicaps such as dementia and autism to those with disabilities and senior citizens with chronic conditions. Its 229 clients come from all over the Metro Richmond region, their visits covered fully or partially by Medicaid in most cases and by scholarships in others. Its Board of Directors is composed entirely of volunteers.

The organization considers itself fortunate to have a strong group of corporate partners, including those who visited during last month’s Day of Action, as well as Genworth and Altria, Seward said. Local schools, including Collegiate, St. Christopher’s and VCU, also send students to research and volunteer at AGP.

“It’s great that corporations give time like this,” Seward said, gesturing toward a group of volunteers from Owens and Minor as they took a group photograph before setting off to mingle with clients. “They go back to work with renewed energy.”

The average client at A Grace Place receives services there for about a decade, Seward said. The organization usually has a handful of open spots, but Seward realizes that for each person it helps, countless others in the community are going without that same type of care. There simply aren’t enough options available to provide care for the growing number of people afflicted with various conditions, including Alzheimer’s, she said.

“We don’t know where [many of them] are getting care right now,” Seward said.    

A Grace Place is adding services so that it will be able to accept more adults with autism and Alzheimer’s. But, “the issue is funding,” she said. The United Way’s annual donations help – A Grace Place received more than $122,000 during its Fiscal Year 2008-09 – but funding from other sources continues to slide.

In one room last month, clients with dementia listened intently, smiles creeping across several of their faces, as a volunteer read a Dr. Seuss story. The room, decorated in soft tones and with children’s furniture, is designed to provide clients with a sense of their own childhood years.

Age Wave Planning
With United Way and Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging, leading the way, a number of public and private organizations and businesses recently joined together to initiate the Greater Richmond Age Wave program, which seeks to prepare the region for the anticipated population boom among senior citizens. Projections show that the number of adults 65 and older in Virginia will double to 700,000 or 800,000 within 20 years, creating a broad range of needs – and opportunities.

“We’re already not meeting the needs of people today,” said Lea Setegn, spokeswoman for the United Way. “What are we going to do when it doubles?”

The project seeks to identify potential challenges associated with the growing senior population – such as the need for affiliated services and long-term care options – identify gaps in the system and make recommendations about how to fill them.

Perhaps most troubling to those like Seward who see the effects firsthand is that most families are uninformed about the options that exist for their family members.

“Families are totally caught off-guard,” she said. “People don’t plan – for retirement or for their own future fees.”

But A Grace Place also experiences the flip side of the growing population. It enjoys support from a number of volunteers who are themselves part of the Baby Boomers generation, Seward said.

“Baby boomers are changing everything that they touch,” she said. “We have boomers who come in and don’t only volunteer but invent new programs.”
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