Foster Grandparents Help Children to Thrive

We all know that volunteering can be good for the soul. We have a group of ladies and gentleman that have taken that saying to heart. This group of dedicated volunteers work with Kathie Larsen in the Foster Grandparent Program. The Foster Grandparent Program is one of the programs that is run through Senior Corps. Senior Corps is a network of national service programs for Americans 55 years and older who dedicate their time to address critical needs in their communities. These needs include academic tutoring and mentoring, elderly care and disaster relief to name just a few. The academic tutoring and mentoring is the need that our Foster Grannies (and Grandad) address 5 days a week in our community schools.

Our Foster Grannies and Grandad stay active serving the children in their community. They are role models, mentors and friends to the students and give an important and sometimes critical helping hand to the teachers in their schools. We have 51 Grannies and 1 Grandad serving in 8 out of our 13 counties. They serve in 23 different schools, to include our Head Start program, and one Boys and Girls Club. During 2019, these 52 amazing volunteers gave 54,900.50 hours of their time to help the children in the counties where they live. Let’s think about that for a minute, those hours divided by the 52 volunteers is 1,056 hours per volunteer! That is just an average, we have 33 grannies and grandpa that gave over 1,000 hours and 7 grannies that gave over 1,500 hours. That is amazing dedication and caring. Let’s talk a little more about the stats of our FGP program. The number of years of service to the program varies greatly; however we have a small group who have been the bedrock of the program for quite a while. We have 8 who have been with the program for 10 or more years and one who has been with the program for more than 20 years. The average age is 74. Our biggest “age” group are those in their 70’s with 19; however, not to be outdone, we have 8 who are in their 80’s and one incredible woman who is in her 90’s.

I had the opportunity to meet with the West side program, which is basically all those on the west side of I-65. The grannies and grandpa will work where each individual school needs them to be. Some work in the library, such as the grannies at Frank Hughes Elementary; others work in specific grades and others still are mobile throughout the day going to different classrooms and grades. Some work with groups in the classroom and others work one on one with children that need a little additional help with their subjects. They tend to work mainly with reading assistance but we also have a number of grannies who help with math and our grandpa works on the high school level working in the shop. The jobs are varied but all are important and are making a difference in their respective classrooms. Their reasons for being a part of the program were also varied. A couple of the comments that I heard were, “it is a new adventure every day”, and that it was amazing to “see the kids pick up a book and be able to read”. A number of grannies said, “they meet me at the door each morning” and that they “love starting the day with the hugs”. The one comment that had all the others agreeing was “ I appreciate getting up every morning and being greeted with a hug and getting something new every day – a note, a card. A lot of these kids just want a hug.”

Ms. Virginia Ludine Moore, or Ms. Virginia as she is affectionately known, is our longest serving, our amazing amount of lifetime hours served and our most senior grannie who turned 93 years young this past November 11th. She has been reading to the children, and sometimes to those children’s children at Frank Hughes Elementary in Clifton for 22 years. Ms. Virginia can best be described is a force and one of the nicest ladies you will have the honor of meeting. She told me that she started teaching school after High School and has been involved in education ever since. She and her husband raised their family in Lawrence County and she has remained there even though most of her family has moved away. She started volunteering with the program about the same time her husband passed away and has kept busy with the program helping students in the library. Ms. Virginia is legendary in her dedication to her students. One day last year she got a small cut on her leg due to a rouge rocking chair and had to be taken by ambulance to the ER to get it taken care of. This was not about to keep Ms. Virginia down and she was back at the school the following morning ready to help her students. In her 22 years of volunteering, Ms. Virginia has given approximately 28,600 hours of her time to the students in Clifton.

Not to be outdone, the grannies at New Prospect Elementary in Lawrenceburg, Novella Salsman, Bertha Faulkner, Betty Steadman and Teresa Nolan have made such an impact on the school and the children that the school wanted to show their appreciation. At the urging of their supervisor at the school, a mural was commissioned in their honor. It was a complete surprise to the grannies and they are very proud to have been acknowledged in that way. The mural recognizes and honors those foster grannies for their love and devotion to the school and it’s students. The grannies at New Prospect have a varied path to the program that include a former SCHRA Head Start supervising teacher, as well as one who was new to the area and had heard about the program. Together they have over 29 years in the program at New Prospect.

The FGP Program does reimburse these volunteers; basically to assist with the travel that is required to participate. In 1965 when the program began, the stipend amount was $1.10 per hour volunteered. This amount was 88% of minimum wage in 1965. In 1974 the stipend was raised to $1.60 and for a couple of months during that year that was also the minimum wage in the country. It was also the only time this occurred. The stipend was raised by a dime or a little more approximately every five years until 2003 where it hit a high of $2.65. In 2009 an increase was approved however Congress never funded it and so it has remained at $2.65 for the last 16 years. Now the volunteers do not do this for the money. If that were the case many probably would have left quite a long time ago. However, like for most people today, every little bit helps and the stipend for some is used to help cover costs for items such as gas for those who drive. This part of the story does have a happy ending though. Kathy just found out that Congress has approved and funded a raise in the stipend for the FGP program that will begin in the new year. The stipend has been raised to $3.00 per hour so Happy Holidays to all of the volunteers in the FGP program!