CCN members pose with the community

The Caregiver’s Community Network provides students with the opportunity to relieve caregivers around the area for three hours each week and spend time with an individual over 60 who has health problems.

CCN began after a research study in Harrisonburg found that caregivers in the area needed respite, which is a short period of rest from a difficult situation according to CCN coordinator Kathy Guisewite. The program is partnered with both JMU and the Valley Program for Aging Services, which exists to empower those 60 or older with resources and opportunities to lead engaged lives.

The students visit an individual in pairs for three hours a week. Many of the students are health sciences, nursing or psychology majors. Activities range from reading a book with the individual, baking cookies or going for a walk.

In order to participate, students must sign up for IPE 490, which is a one-credit course. The highest enrollment for the course has been 40 students, who were able to assist 20 individuals.

“I find that students enjoy it as an opportunity to take what they are learning in the classroom and apply it out in the community,” Guisewite said.

Marta Armstrong has benefitted from this program for the last three years. Her husband, Richard, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about 25 years ago. According to Armstrong, all of the individuals who have visited have been very sweet and kind.

“It’s been a great program,” Armstrong said. “Always in the back of my head I’m worried, ‘Did he fall while I was gone?’ This way, I leave knowing that he is in good hands.” 

The program doesn’t involve any medical care but focuses on the social and emotional needs of the care recipients. According to Guisewite, students can expect to build relationships with the individuals they’re interacting with. 

“I think it’s a very reciprocal program,” Beth Bland, director of senior services at VPAS, said. “Having this weekly one on one time with an older adult … it really gives the students a good perspective on being more sensitive and better understanding of the needs of older adults.”

Kimberly Marchant, a senior health science major, took the course last year. While she was initially signed up just to add an extra credit for the semester, she found a class she really enjoyed.

“It was a great way to give back to the community and learn a bit more about Harrisonburg,” Marchant said. “It gave that in-person experience that our majors are looking for.”

The individual Marchant and her partner were assisting was a clockbuilder. They helped him sell some of his work online that had been just lying around the house. Since he also had vision problems, Marchant and her partner would often read books to him during their visit.

“It’s one thing to learn it in the classroom and learn about all the care that the elderly are receiving,” Marchant said. “It’s another thing to enter their community and see how their caregiver relationships work.”

Pat Martin has benefitted from the program for the past year. Her husband Dwayne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January, and she decided to try CCN after hearing about it from a friend. During the time students visit, she has time to run errands and do leisurely activities she couldn’t do before.

“It was just an influx of fresh, friendly people that made him feel good,” Martin said. “He has said that when they come, it’s like a breath of fresh air.”

Martin said her husband’s favorite thing is to go on a walk with the students. Her husband is an entomologist,— a scientist who studies insects —so sometimes they’ll read books about insects.

 “If someone is going to be working in the field of social work or medicine or anything where they will be working with people who might be getting old, they really need to practice, and this is a great practicum,” Martin said.

On Nov. 12, CCN will host the Confident Caregiver Conference at JMU. It’s open to any individuals who wish to learn more about caregiving.

“It seems like it’s not your typical college course, and most people want to work with children,” Marchant said. “But it’s life-changing, and it was nice to finally communicate within Harrisonburg and get the real-life experience that you are learning in the classroom.”

Contact Matthew Sasser at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Matthew Sasser is a sophomore writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major. Beyond writing, he enjoys skateboarding, playing bass guitar, ultimate frisbee and is an avid Taco Bell enthusiast.