Community corner: Grandparents raising grandkids

By Brian Penny, Senior Outreach Coordinator

When it comes to caring for children without a home, many of us are familiar with adoption and the foster care process. But what often flies under the radar is when family members of children that would otherwise go into the foster system step up to care for them. This process is called “kinship care.”

Kinship care is the full-time care of children by family members, close family friends, or other important adults in a child’s life. There are many benefits to placing children with relatives or other kinship caregivers, including increased stability and safety, ability to maintain cultural traditions and family connections, and overall reduced cost for the child welfare system.

Throughout history, families have cared for related children during times of illness, poverty, incarceration, death, violence or other family crises. Many cultures continue this practice to this day, often outside of the social service or court systems. There are currently about 2.7 million kids in the United States residing in kinship care arrangements. An estimated 52,000 are in Michigan.

Today, most child welfare professionals agree that placing children with appropriate kin is the best living situation for children whose parents aren’t able to care for them safely at home. Research suggests that kinship caregivers provide improved placement stability, higher levels of permanency, and decreased behavior problems to children in care. Also children thrive in grandfamilies and do even better when well-supported by services.

There are not, however, many services available for children in kinship care. As anyone who has done it can tell you, raising children as a grandparent is not easy even in ideal circumstances—and circumstances are rarely ideal. Because of that, South County Community Services is committed to supporting grandparents who raise their grandchildren.

Over the past several years, SCCS has led a group, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, that has included financial assistance, group support, and regular activities. This fall we are hosting a mixer/party at The Dome Sportscenter in Schoolcraft to provide information about our services, invite new members to join our group, and put on a fun night for the families whom we serve. If you are a grandparent raising grandchildren and are interested in attending, here are the details:

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Party

When: September 13th, 2023 at 4pm

Where: The Dome Sportscenter

What: Pizza, kid’s activities, financial assistance, information on services for seniors

Who: Grandparents (aged 55 or older) who are raising relative grandchildren (18 years of age or younger)

Please call me (Brian) at 649-2901 ext. 7 to RSVP.

A senior moment: Housing design to aid longevity

By Danna Downing

When I first became focused on living arrangements for older adults, the advocacy chant was all about the goal of aging in place, meaning the family home. In the time since my retirement, the experts on the leading edge of senior health challenges have transitioned to the idea of aging in community. This new paradigm better reflects the reality of increased longevity and emerging research about what seniors need to thrive. Ryan Frederick, a nationally recognized expert on human longevity and the critical role of “place” plays in living long and well, opens his book with a startling question. “Are you prepared to live to 100?” he asks. “Centenarians are the fastest growing demographic group, increasing from 100,000 in 1990 to an estimated 4 million in 2050” he states. Furthermore, long lives are becoming the norm, especially for those who are educated, take care of themselves and plan ahead,” he adds. Inevitably, the idea of aging in place is too static, too hard to achieve, and even disastrous if we do not plan for the time when we need additional help and support to live independently or find long-term care.

Aging in place only works until it doesn’t. Then what? “Right Place, Right Time”, by Ryan Frederick, is written with three goals in mind: 1) Help older adults understand the power of being in the right place to thrive at all ages and times. 2) Help older adults and their families evaluate the fit of their current home. 3) Help us explore the growing list of options available to help us take positive action for our future years.

That third goal of taking positive action is more about forethought and process, due to all the unknowns we face in our later years. It involves field trips, family discussions, and management of resources. It involves facing change head-on.

Frederick’s guide offers readers an opportunity to create a personal healthy aging dashboard. This includes key questions to ask yourself regarding your need for social connection, what gives your life meaning, your goals for physical well-being, financial well-being, and all the aspects of what makes you feel at home and in the right place. In addition to the personal questions, he also provides real-life stories of how others have navigated the process. He tops things off with strong alert that this kind of self-evaluation is absolutely essential and a task that must be done over and over again.

One of the most significant parts of the book for me was the thorough tour of housing options: single family housing, apartments, age-restricted housing, senior co-op housing, living with or near family, and emerging options, including cohousing, tiny homes, and an array of interesting village concepts. Place, specifically South County, is very important to me. In fact, the author has a specific term for folks like me: I have to admit that South County has “laid claim to me.” I would like nothing more than to end my years in southern Kalamazoo County. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of senior housing resources near-by. My adult children live out of state. The odds are very good that I will need to face those challenges just like everyone else.

Like other people my age, I try to stay healthy and fit so as to postpone the inevitable long-term care decisions as long as possible. I was intrigued with a section of Frederick’s book devoted to a review of what is called “design thinking.” This innovative approach to making life decisions relies on users to understand their needs, challenge assumptions, look for and test prototypes that are relevant and effective for making important life choices. It was developed at first for college grads and has migrated to many other areas, including older adult life choices.

This is where our work begins in the second half of life. It may begin by visiting an apartment complex in your local community to see what living in an 800-1,200 square foot space feels like to discuss what to do when family can no longer visit you in your much larger current home.

In closing, I would highly recommend reading “Right Place, Right Time”. It is a thoughtful, comprehensive, and very usable guide that includes references and resources for all the topic areas discussed. The book is now available at the Vicksburg District Library and can be viewed and ordered locally at Gilbert & Ivy.

Picture walks: North America’s largest woodpecker

By Jeanne Church

One of the most exciting birds for me to find and photograph is the pileated woodpecker. It is the largest North American woodpecker and one of the biggest, most striking birds on the continent! It has a wingspan of nearly thirty inches, a flaming red triangular crest that sweeps off the back of its head, and a long chisel-like beak.

This impressive looking bird earned its name from that flashy red crest that covers its pileum, or top of its head. The word ‘pileated’ is the adjective form of the word. But how is it pronounced? Is it PIE-lee-ay-tid, PILL-eee-ay-tid, or PEE-lee-ay-tid? I have heard all three versions. After doing a little research on the subject, it seems that all three pronunciations are acceptable, but the PIE-lee-ay-tid form more closely mimics the original etymology of the word, which is spoken with the long “I” sound.

The pileated woodpecker has often received credit for inspiring the creation of the well-known, mid-20th century cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker. But Woody was actually inspired by an acorn woodpecker that had been drumming away persistently on the honeymoon cabin of Walter Lantz, Woody’s creator. Interestingly, though, Woody’s shaggy red top-knot more closely resembles that of a pileated woodpecker than an acorn woodpecker. Many people also find that Woody’s characteristic laugh sounds more like the pileated than the acorn, but that’s still up for debate. Maybe Woody is just the best of both birds!

Even if you’ve never seen a pileated woodpecker, you’ve probably heard one drumming on a hollow tree, or seen evidence of its drilling on a dead or dying tree. The drumming sound made by a pileated woodpecker is loud and persistent. It is an effective way for the bird to establish territory and to attract a mate. When drumming, the pileated woodpecker slams its beak into a tree about 17 times per second with up to 1,200g’s of force—far surpassing the amount that would cause a concussion in human beings!

When pileated woodpeckers aren’t busy drumming, they’re using those mighty chisel-like beaks to drill for carpenter ants, beetles, termites, and other insects, or to carve out a nesting site. You’ve probably seen their insect excavation holes, but maybe didn’t realize they were made by a pileated woodpecker. The holes are sometimes at eye-level, and are always rectangular! The holes that the pileated woodpecker makes for a nest, on the other hand, are oval and usually 50 to 80 feet off the ground in a large, dead tree.

The nest holes that the pileated woodpecker makes take three to six weeks to complete and are rarely reused. But those abandoned nest cavities, which can be up to 24 inches deep, will not go to waste. Instead, they will provide crucial nesting or roosting places for many other species including wood ducks, bluebirds, screech-owls, bats, raccoons, and other mammals. You’ll know it’s a pileated woodpecker’s nest by the oblong shape of the entrance. Most other woodpeckers have round entrance holes.

The pileated woodpecker has adapted well to living among us in both urban and suburban habitats– as long as there are enough mature trees, snags and fallen logs for nesting and feeding. If you have dead or dying trees on your property, consider leaving them alone if it is safe to do so. Those dead trees may attract pileated woodpeckers as well as other birds that like to forage, roost, or nest in them.

Your best chance for seeing a pileated woodpecker at your backyard feeder is during the fall and winter months. By that time of year, the pileated woodpecker is searching for nuts and seeds to supplement its diet of ants and other insects. Their favorite backyard treat is suet cakes, but they will also eat peanuts, mealworms, and black oil sunflower seeds.

Keep your binoculars handy in the upcoming months and enjoy your search for North America’s largest woodpecker!