HIGH COUNTRY — High Country Caregivers is a nonprofit organization that supports local families in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Founded in 2006, HCC helps grandparents and other relatives who have stepped in to raise young family members in Avery, Mitchell, Yancey, Watauga, Wilkes and Ashe counties.
“We create a continuum of support to help grandparents put their grandchildren on a positive trajectory,” said executive director Jacob Willis.
The need for “kinship caregivers,” a term given to relatives raising family members, dramatically increased in the High Country due to local methamphetamine, opioid and fentanyl epidemics.
“The first thing kinship caregivers need to know is that they are not alone,” said Marty Wilson, HCC program director. Wilson said HCC is there to help people who are not just reeling from the loss of their adult child to a drug addiction, but with the added responsibility of caring for a grandchild.
When someone first contacts High Country Caregivers, an on-site visit is scheduled so that HCC staff can meet the grandparents in their element and hear their stories. Wilson said that after that moment, grandparents know they have someone to call for help.
High Country Caregivers also helps grandparents forge relationships with different agencies and resources that address the systemic challenges they are facing. HCC calls this process “Kinship Navigation.”
Caroline Johnson, HCC’s kinship navigator, calls each of HCC’s 147 families once a month to help make sure their needs are being met.
“We find it much easier, it’s much better to address a challenge before it becomes a crisis,” Johnson said.
In addition, Johnson facilitates HCC’s Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP). RAPP meetings are monthly support groups that meet in Avery County from 4:30 to 6 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month at Crossnore First Baptist Church. At RAPP meetings, relatives who are raising their family members bond over their shared experience. Meals and childcare are provided.
Since the transition from teen to adult is such a critical one, HCC launched two new programs last year specifically designed for HCC teens.
HCC started a nature adventure program called “Eyes in the Wild.” This program, created in partnership with Director of Snakeroot Ecotours Tal Galton, immerses teens on hiking and overnight camping adventures into the Appalachian wilderness.
The second program is a skilled-trade business incubator program called Learning Shack.
Youth ages 12 to 18 meet every Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. to learn pottery, sewing, carpentry, jewelry-making, baking, car repair and blacksmithing.
“Learning Shack is where teens can explore their interests in high-quality classes with teachers who are professionals in their field, and then they have an opportunity to sell what they make,” said Pana Columbus, director of the Learning Shack program.
Partnering with the small business center at Mayland, youth will learn how to start their own business and will get a tour of community colleges and four-year institutions alike.
The program begins Tuesday, March 7, and continues every week through August 17. This program was funded in part by a grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, The Women’s Fund of the Blue Ridge and the Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk.
While students learn and create, their grandparents will receive parenting support and nutrition classes provided by Blue Ridge Partnership for Children and Avery Cooperative Extension, respectively.
“If you or someone you know are raising their grandchildren or other relatives, please let them know there is a community of support waiting for them,” said Johnson. “We would love to meet them.”
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