Patricia Bolland of Warsaw serves as a foster grandparent in classrooms in Wyoming County. Approximately 45 foster grandparents in the Livingston, Steuben and Wyoming tri-county area serve an average of 40,000 per year.
By Maria R. Hayes
You’re never too old to go back to school.
‘Grandmas’ and ‘Grandpas’ from the Foster Grandparents Program have been special helpers in local pre-school and elementary school classrooms since 1973. Today, approximately 45 volunteers in the Livingston, Steuben and Wyoming tri-county area serve an average of 40,000 hours per year. Schools and pre-schools in Wyoming County include those in Arcade, Warsaw and Letchworth.
“There’s just as many benefits for the grandparents as there are for the children,” said Patricia Bolland, a foster grandparent from Warsaw. “It gives you a purpose, a reason to get up and go out and do something useful. It’s just amazing to me. This is my eighth year, and I am definitely hooked.”
The grandparents spend between 15 and 40 hours per week in lower age-level classrooms assisting teachers with day-to-day tasks and giving extra support to children who need it.
“I have a couple of kids that are quieter than a church mouse,” said Belva Bentham, a foster grandparent from Castile. “You just gotta keep encouraging them to speak up so that we can hear them. It’s great to hear them finally saying ‘thank you’ instead of whispering ‘thank you.’”
The grandparents are building relationships with students, giving them both academic and emotional assistance.
“It’s nice for them to have somebody there, even if they have grandparents,” Bolland said. “It’s somebody they know they can go to, someone that will give them a hug or a little support.”
Warsaw Elementary School is one of the educational institutions with a history of working with the program. The students love their grandmas and grandpas, according to Warsaw Elementary School principal Steve Saxton.
“They’re somebody that helps pack their backpack at the end of the day and take their coat off in the morning,” Saxton said. “They’re that support to the classroom for the first-time student coming to school, especially in kindergarten. They need that.”
The program has been benefiting the elementary school.
“It provides some of that additional management support for those students who have higher academic needs,” Saxton said. “It provides somebody to keep an eye on those children and work with them more on a one-on-one basis or small group basis.”
And though they might not realize it, the students are helping their grandparents in return.
“It’s a good feeling to walk into a store like Big M or Wal-Mart and have them run up to you yelling ‘Grandpa!’” said foster grandparent Dan Howard, of Warsaw.
For some grandparents, the program gives them a reason to leave the house every day.
Dan Howard of Warsaw, serves as a foster grandparent in classrooms in Wyoming County.
“You look forward to getting up in the morning knowing that you’re going to go help other people,” said foster grandparent Betty Bailey, who lives in Silver Springs. “You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning because you’re going to help others.”
The Foster Grandparents program accepts volunteers ages 55 and up who have a limited income.
Volunteers receive a tax-free stipend of $2.65 an hour to cover the cost of serving. They do not and cannot replace school staff members. Their volunteer site provides them a school lunch, and grandparents also receive up to $50 toward an annual physical examination.
The program is sponsored by the Livingston County Board of Supervisors through the Livingston County Office for the Aging and is funded in part by the Wyoming County Office for the Aging, among other organizations. The program is part of Senior Corps, a national network of programs that taps the skills and talents of older citizens to meet community challenges.
“It’s really a good use of public money,” said Deb Gage, the Foster Grandparent Program director for Wyoming, Steuben and Livingston Counties. “It’s a small amount to pay for the benefits the seniors and the kids are getting.”
Current foster grandparents encourage anyone interested in volunteering to join the program.
“If you want to make a difference in a child’s life, join the grandparents program,” Bailey said.
“If you meet the guidelines, look into it and volunteer,” he said. “You’re going to be blessed.”