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Two grants totaling nearly $15,000 have been awarded to East Central University’s Social Work Program to encourage more graduates to work with older adults.

Both grants were awarded by the Council on Social Work Education’s National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education (Gero-Ed Center) and are funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

ECU is one of 20 colleges and universities to receive a new $7,500 BSW Experiential Learning (BEL) grant over two years to develop, implement and evaluate learning opportunities in which students interact with older adults. The goal is to recruit more social work graduates interested in aging issues and in working with older adults.

ECU also is one of 46 institutions to receive a grant from the Gero-Ed Center’s Curriculum Development Institute Program. That grant, for $7,480, is to help develop and add more gerontology-related classes across the Social Work Program’s foundation curriculum in order to improve the care and well-being of older adults and their families.

Satara Armstrong, ECU assistant professor of human resources, is the grant’s lead faculty participant.

“There is a pre-conception that most older people are in nursing homes, but they’re not,” said Dr. Carol Bridges, professor of human resources and director of the Social Work Program. “While there are a lot of people who are frail and in nursing homes, we don’t think about older people who are teaching or are bank presidents.”

She said the Social Work Program wants to provide opportunities for students to interview older people and create a photo display with their oral histories “just to put a face on that population, probably a more favorable face than many people have.”

The aim of the BEL grant is to give undergraduate students positive experiences directly interacting with older adults in order to reduce or dispel their misconceptions, negative attitudes or fears about aging. They then may be more likely to pursue gerontological social work courses and/or employment or a master of social work degree focused on older adults.

“As part of the BEL grant,” Bridges said, “we want to develop an advisory committee and partner with social services agencies that address the needs of older adults in our area.”

ECU has had a child welfare program since 1994. The gerontology program will add another dimension to the curriculum, she said, especially as more attention is being paid to the growing population of older people in the United States. Oklahoma is one of the states with an above-average population of older adults, Bridges said.

The Council on Social Work Education is a nonprofit national association representing more than 3,000 individual members as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. Founded in 1952, the partnership of educational and professional institutions, social welfare agencies and private citizens is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education.

The John A. Hartford Foundation is a committed champion of training, research and service system innovations that promote the health and independence of America’s older adults.

Through its grants, the foundation seeks to strengthen the nation’s capacity to provide effective, affordable care to this rapidly increasing older population by educating “aging-prepared” health professionals (physicians, nurses, social workers) and developing innovations that improve and better integrate health and supportive services.

John A. Hartford and his brother, George L. Hartford, both former chief executives of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, left the bulk of their estates to the foundation upon their deaths in the 1950s.

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