The Foster Grandparent Program is a community mentorship opportunity between adults over the age of 55 and children who may need older role models. The national program officially began in 1968 in Washtenaw County, and every year since, volunteers have served as leaders in the community.
Foster Grandparents are granted the opportunity to supply educational resources, mentorship and leadership to youth in community settings like schools and daycares throughout the county.
They help children by providing opportunities of one-on-one tutoring, reading lessons and a shoulder to lean on especially during a critical point of development in many childrens’ lives.
Sandy Bowers, the Washtenaw County Foster Grandparent Program specialist, explained how the program works, including how the volunteers not only help the children whom they work with, but how they help themselves in the process.
“This is a program that really benefits the children we serve, but from my point of view, it really serves the older adults equally,” Bowers said. “They receive a lot of benefits from being in a program that gives them an opportunity to give back… (and) a classroom community where they’re really needed and wanted. They feel appreciated, (and) they know that they’re making a difference. They’re connecting with people, they’re making a difference, (and) it’s a really important part of their lives as well as the children that they’re helping.”
There are a few benefits that are included with volunteering for the program, especially for low-income volunteers. The benefits include a financial monthly stipend of $212, training and youth development to properly understand the needs of youth that they will be working with. There is also transportation reimbursement, free lunches and uniforms, social engagements with other members of the community and even physical examinations.
Typically, Foster Grandparents serve 20 hours per week and are paired at volunteer opportunities that relate to their individual interests, needs and distance between the station and volunteer’s home.
Once a location is selected, such as a school or head-start, volunteers are paired with children and youth that need extra support. Foster Grandparents engage in activities that promote literacy, education and emotional support.
Bowers also added that with pandemic woes, the program is up and running and looking to employ more volunteers who would like to become Foster Grandparents.
“We are recruiting right now,” Bowers said. “I will say that during the pandemic, we stayed as active as we could. We connected with our grandparents and made sure that they were still connecting with each other and other people and their schools when possible. We haven’t had a lot of recruiting over the last couple of years and we would like to bring more people on board and get our numbers up. So, we’re definitely looking for new folks, (and) we’re looking for anyone who really has a heart to serve and really wants to work with children.”
For seniors and other individuals interested in applying to become a Foster Grandparent there is a program inquiry form available here. For more about the program and its benefits, information can be found here.