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Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program Successfully Navigates Changes and Pandemic Challenges

Staff members of the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program hand out tokens of appreciation during its Hearts of Gold caregiver event March 5.

For 20 years, the Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program (RCP) at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has provided support and services to children who are being cared for by a grandmother, aunt, uncle, or other extended family members because their parents are not able to raise them. While the pandemic has been challenging, it has not stopped the program from prioritizing the needs of the children and families it serves.

Memphis Police also assisted with the event as officers helped hand out baskets during the event.

This year, 151 families have been assisted through the RCP. Team members provide services, including child and teen mentoring programs, caregiver support groups, and community resource assistance. “I am so thankful for the staff and community partners who stepped in and assisted us as we helped families to maintain daily living,” said Teresa English, program administrator for the Relative Caregiver Program. “Through unemployment, death, and all of the aftereffects of COVID, our families were able to persevere with assistance and support. It is blessing to be able to give hope to our families, as we continue to adjust to the new normal.”

Client Ashley Basquez displays a token of appreciation from the Relative Caregiver Program.

March has been a busy month for the RCP. The program moved from 711 Jefferson Avenue to 239 S. Dudley on campus. The first event held in the new location was the Hearts of Gold appreciation event for caregivers on March 5. The theme was “Drive-Thru Basket of Love.” Adhering to social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, team members passed out baskets filled with hygiene and household items, gifts from Mary Kay, personal care products donated by AKA Sorority, Inc. Sisters in Service Foundation, mini-Bundt cakes, and a case of water, while honorees stayed in their cars. On March 6, 33 RCP children participated in a virtual cooking class through the Floating Kitchen 901, a program of Couture Cares, a nonprofit agency that focuses on the needs of children in the Memphis community. Held on Zoom, the event was led by Chef Ragan of Ladyfingers Catering Company in Memphis. She taught the children how to cook a chicken pot pie from scratch. “We provided each child with all the ingredients to make the recipe,” said Rhonda Ferguson-Wilkins, RCP family advocate counselor. “They had a ball learning to chop, clean, sauté, and bake the chicken pot pie.”

Watch highlights of the virtual cooking class.

Even with all the program has achieved, English praises caregivers the most. “They are the real heroes who keep showing up, no matter how hard life gets,” she said. “Not even COVID-19 can stop that.”

The Shelby County Relative Caregiver Program, funded by the Tennessee Department of Children Services, operates under the  UTHSC Center on Developmental Disabilities in the College of Medicine at UTHSC. For more information, call 901.448.3133 or email scrcp@uthsc.edu.