BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo School of Social Work
this fall will expand a multi-year prestigious national grant
program designed to transform how graduate social work students
learn how to serve older adults.
The national program, called the Hartford Partnership Program in
Aging Education, stresses the need to rotate students' field work
or internship experience to include at least three different
settings within an agency.
"The Hartford Partnership program is all about giving students
greater exposure to aging-related agencies and different
populations of older adults," says Deborah P. Waldrop, associate
professor in UB's School of Social Work, who administers the
program with the School of Social Work's Field Education
"The idea here is if you were a student placed in one agency and
worked only in one population of older people," she says, "you'd
leave that experience believing that all older people are nursing
home residents or have dementia or whatever it was that you
Instead, the Hartford Partnership, which Waldrop says carries
national cache and is a valuable asset when students apply for
jobs, requires that each student be placed in a variety of
rotations to illustrate the wide differences in need and
circumstances of the elderly population.
"Then students walk away with an aging-enhanced view of the
world and older adults, and a more diverse idea of just how you
care for these differences in the population," says Waldrop.
The program started with six students two years ago, expanded to
include nine in 2007-08 and will grow to 12 this fall. The program
comes with a three-year $75,000 grant used mostly for students
stipends, says Waldrop, who coordinates the program with Sharon A.
Herlehy, assistant director for field education in UB's School of
Social Work. The School of Social Work will try to continue the
program when it expires at the end of three years by looking for
independent funding, Waldrop says.
"What we're really about is developing a workforce of aging
family social workers to have a sense, knowledge, experience and
exposure to this stage in everyone's life," says Waldrop. "Because
aging is not about them. It's about all of us. It's about every
person who is growing older. And we're growing older from the day
we were born. It's about how we prepare for later life."
Funded with money from the John A. Hartford Foundation and
developed by the Social Work Leadership Institute at the New York
Academy of Medicine, the program is part of the legacy of the two
Hartford brothers who started the A&P grocery store chain. The
two died without heirs, and decided they wanted to devote part of
their fortune to prepare the next generation of people to work with
older adults. The foundation has put more than $50 million into
social work education since it began in the early 1990s.
Two students who are presently serving internships in Western
New York agencies both illustrated the goals of the program. They
tell a powerful story of how their field experiences have broadened
their professional consciousness and at the same time touched their
"I hadn't had any experience with people with dementia or
Alzheimer's before I started my field placement, and I really
didn't know what to expect from this internship experience," says
Janelle Baker, a Buffalo native, who was placed at the Alzheimer's
Association of Western New York. "So, on my second day, when my
supervisor told me I'd be spending time with a support group for
men in early- to mid-stage dementia, I was unsure how I would be
able to interact, or how I would approach these men. So, I went to
the group with my supervisor and she introduced me, then she left
the room so that the group participants and I could talk.
"Well, the group members were so friendly, witty, charming and
welcoming. I realized that had my supervisor not told me that they
had dementia, I really wouldn't have known. Having an open mind and
a willingness to learn from clients was all that I needed. So many
people have misconceptions about dementia or Alzheimer's, but there
is no standard way to define people who have these diseases. And
yes, there are many losses associated with such an illness, but
what I've learned from the men in that support group is that, for
as long as they can, they hold on to what they have not lost: their
loved ones, their humor and the wisdom they've gained throughout
Sarah Nicholson, another UB social work graduate student
finishing the program this summer, was placed in the Center for
Hospice and Palliative Care. Nicholson says she will never be the
same after doing a home visit with a patient who was a pastor and
her husband, who was also a pastor.
"Without giving too many details, the interview with them moved
me because you could see in their eyes how much they loved each
other, but also how at peace they were with the situation," says
Nicholson, a Pendleton native who, like Baker, will graduate from
UB's masters social work program this month.
"The husband told his wife's story with such detail, that you
saw how much of an advocate he was for her. They fought as much as
they could fight, but then were determined to make her pain free
and comfortable in the end."
Besides the support group for men, Baker has answered calls on
the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour hotline for people with
dementia. She also participated in Care Consultation, during which
she visited clients' homes with another staff member to develop
care plans. Nicholson has also accompanied staff at the Hospice
Inpatient Unit for short-term care and symptom management, and
served on a task force to help patients living alone.
"Being able to witness so much at Hospice has made me realize
that Hospice is so much more than what I thought it was," says
Other Western New York agencies where UB students in the
Hartford Program have been placed include the Amherst Center for
Senior Services, Beechwood Continuing Care, Buffalo VA Medical
Center, Niagara Lutheran Home and Rehabilitation, and Greenfield
Court and Manor, the Alzheimer's Association, Erie County Senior
Services and Schofield Long Term Home Health Care.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.