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Seasonal Residents Embrace Nonprofit “Relatives as Parents Program” Organization

Joan Benbasat and Rebecca Scialpi share a special moment with some of the youngsters in the Relatives as Parents Program following a recent production of The Wiz at Lees McRae College in Banner Elk.

For the last few years, a group of seasonal residents have embraced the local nonprofit organization Relatives as Parents Program, better known as RAPP, and commonly referred to as “grandparents raising grandchildren.”

While it also includes aunts, uncles and other kinship caregivers, the majority of RAPP participants are grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren — and even in some instances, great-grandchildren.

Funded through grants, fundraisers and private donations, RAPP helps meet the needs of these families by providing monthly support meetings, special outings and helping fund extra-curricular activities, such as school field trips, yearbooks, summer camps and more.

Recognizing the unmet needs of these families, the generosity of these compassionate individuals is having a tremendous impact upon the ongoing success of RAPP.

These little shoes are stark reminders for Joan Benbasat of a troubled childhood and how anything is possible for those who believe and work hard to make their dreams come true. Photos by Sherrie Norris

Joan Benbasat and Rebecca Scialpi, in particular, divide their time between their homes in South Florida during the winter and in the Banner Elk-Beech Mountain area in the summer. The women, along with several others, including Neal and Marilyn Ramo, are making a difference in the lives of these grandparents, aunt and uncles, and their young family members.

From providing free admission to the recent production of The Wiz at Lees McRae — complete with face-to-face introductions to the cast, to summer film fest at Appalachian State University, a fundraising tea at The Farm in Banner Elk, and upcoming dinner at Fabio’s, their efforts are far-reaching and much appreciated.

“These wonderful people have become great advocates for our RAPP families in recent years,” said Brenda Reece, executive director of High Country Caregiver Foundation, which administers the RAPP services from Yancey to Wilkes counties, with a huge presence in Watauga and Avery. “They have not only hosted fundraising events both here and in Florida, but they have also funded special cultural events, have sent boxes of supplies and clothing to us and maintain frequent contact with us to help with other unmet needs. We could never thank them enough for all they do.”

RAPP coordinator, Sherrie Norris, accompanied a group of grandparents and their children to The Wiz production recently at Lees McRae and commented about the generosity of these women. “As a generous friend and benefactor, Joan Benbasat made the theater events possible, something our families might not otherwise be able to enjoy.

To see the faces of these precious children light up, while posing for pictures with the cast, was an awesome experience.”

It is very important to both Benbasat and Scialpi, who was responsible for arranging a post-event meal, that these children, especially, have exposure to cultural opportunities, Reece and Norris agreed.

Benbasat knows what it’s like to be singled out as a youngster.

During the July 10 afternoon tea at The Farm pavilion, where Benbasat lives, she explained why her efforts are important to her, personally.

“I’ve been there,” she said. “I know what these children are experiencing.”

She shared that, as a child raised in poverty without a secure home environment, tossed “from one house to another,” she had to wear clothing and shoes that belonged to someone else — and always longed for a pair of patent leather “Mary Janes,” of her own. She spoke of how she had later worked her way through school to become a teacher, a principal and how she continued to work hard to get her doctorate degree in psychology.

Through the years, as life took a dramatic turn for Benbasat, from poverty to wealth, she began devoting her time and talent to improve the lives of the young.

“I know what they feel — that they are different and don’t belong. That was me.”

Benbasat eventually bought a pair of those little black patent leather shoes and she keeps them as a stark reminder of her childhood, taking them with her when she shares her story with others, as she did at The Farm tea. 

“We can make a difference,” she told her gathering of friends, as she implored them to donate to the cause. “We will continue to give to make life better for these children. We will take even more of them to the theatres next summer — and we will put smiles on more of their faces.”

For more information about RAPP and the services it offers, visit http://www.highcountrycaregiverfoundation.org or call (828) 265-5434 ext.128.

If you would like to contribute to the ongoing needs of these children and their families, your tax-deductible donations may be mailed to RAPP, c/o High Country Caregiver Foundation, PO Box 3356 Boone, NC 28607.

Brenda Reece, executive director of the High Country Caregiver Foundation, center, presents tokens of appreciation to Rebecca Scialpi, left, and Joan Benbasat, at right, for their unwavering support of the organization and especially to its Relatives as Parents Program.