Grandparents often act as role models, mentors, and friends, but not every child gets the opportunity to learn from one. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is calling on community members to volunteer as foster grandparents to at-risk and special needs children.
Program leaders say seniors have a lot to offer the community, and this is a way to put their skills and talents to good use.
Foster grandparents work with kids at schools, day cares, after-school programs, and non-profit organizations in Inghan, Eaton, and Livingston Counties. The program is in desperate need of more volunteers to help give kids guidance at a critical time in their lives.
Willis Vaughn has been volunteering as a foster grandparent for almost a year. At this month's training session for the foster grandparents program, he brought a very special gift with him.
"It's a very nice accomplishment I can remember this child by," said Vaughn, showing of a card from a student he worked with last year. "This card says 'Thank you.' And it says, 'Grandpa Willis, thank you for everything you did to help care for Connor. Your kindness and patience is appreciated. Love, Derrick, Becky and Connor.'"
He says it's just one of the many reasons he volunteers 20 to 40 hours a week as a foster grandparent.
"When I had my kids I didn't have a lot of time to spend with them because I was working all the time," Vaughn explained. "So when you have that extra time to spend with kids, then you realize what a great pleasure it is."
Foster grandparents provide one-on-one tutoring and classroom assistance to help kids with special needs to read and learn math skills.
"There are so many children that need help," said Dawn Foster, who's volunteered as a foster grandparent for five years. "They just need a little push, a little love, a little support. Knowing that someone is there to encourage them, that is a big plus for some of these students."
And the big plus for seniors who volunteer. They all say it's incredibly rewarding.
"When I'm not there," said foster grandparent Lucia Gonzales. "They say 'Grandma, Grandma, where were you? We need you, we miss you.' Those things are really heart-feeling."
There are about 55 to 60 foster grandparents participating in the program right now, but organizers say they need a lot more volunteers as a new school year starts up.
Foster grandparents have to be willing to serve 20 to 40 hours a week, be 55 years of age or older, and in good health. Some volunteers will be eligible to receive a non-taxable hourly stipend and supplemental insurance. They will also be reimbursed for travel costs.
For more information about the program, call RSVP at (517) 887 - 6116, or email program director Bob Esdale at firstname.lastname@example.org.