Foster Grandparents, a non-profit volunteering program, allows individuals 55 and older to spend time in a classroom assisting and looking after children. The nickname foster derives from the act of fostering a child’s education, a large component the program prides itself on.
“The child can know that Grandma Pete is there everyday and Grandma Pete is going to be there for me if I need her,” Dorthea Peterson, Volunteer Foster Grandparent said.
The Foster Grandparent program first began during former Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency as a way to fight against the War on Poverty. With recognition in the LBJ Presidential Library, the program is noted to “support the diverse range of Americans from the youngest to the oldest” and also “serve to bridge the times of need in between.”
With over 50 years of volunteering in the country, the program has created a sense of purpose for elders, as well as given children a sense of stability.
“We are sometimes there in support for the child,” Peterson described about her experience as a Foster Grandparent. “We’re just there for the child and that’s what the child needs to understand.”
Recently, the United Ways of Iowa, a non-profit program, took the reigns on the program after receiving a federal grant through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
“We have to prove that the communities want the program by receiving either in-kind or monetary funds to assist the program,” Kathy Jipson, FGP Project Coordinator said. “We are in need of organizations or other grant funds to help us meet our grant match.”
In order to become a Foster Grandparent, background checks are involved prior to in-person interviews.
“We do a criminal background check on the state level and then we are now required to do FBI fingerprinting of all foster grandparents,” Jipson said. “We require people to give us three non-relatives names and phone numbers and get personal references.”
Jipson later meets with perspectives in person to see if the program is a good fit.
“I have interviewed enough individuals in the past ten years and if I interview somebody that just gives me an unsettled feeling, then I know that something is wrong,” Jipson said.
Once hired, the position gives volunteers a stipend after spending a maximum of 40 hours in a classroom with a child. The federal government stipend equals about $2.65 an hour in mileage.
“The stipend is a Godsend in a way,” Peterson said. “It cannot be counted as income against low-rent housing.”
The money gives volunteers a sense of fulfillment, Peterson says.
“Foster grandparents are allowed to choose what age of children they prefer to serve and they also choose the hours and days that they serve,” Jipson explained.
Perry’s Foster Grandparent program currently has one Foster Grandparent: Dorthea Peterson. Peterson has worked in the program for a number of years and feels it serves a purpose for all involved.
“Grandma Pete is excellent,” Jipson said. “She has been a foster grandparent for a long time.”
Peterson works 40 hours a week with children.
“It’s challenging, it’s fun,” Peterson described. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a senior to be out and work with people and kids.”
Peterson helps keep a child or children on task. She assists with problems, she gives high fives in hallways, she greets them when they walk into a room. Remembering every child’s name can be challenging, so she often sticks with “sweetheart.”
However, she isn’t allowed to discipline students.
“I’m the world’s biggest tattle-tale,” Peterson jokes. “We do not handle problems on our own, we take anything to a staff member we see, and I tell them [the kids] that you do not want ‘Grumpy Grandma.’”
Right now, the Foster Grandparent is executed throughout the P.A.C.E.S. summer program. The volunteer program hasn’t been implemented throughout the school year at Perry schools, but the program remains hopeful of future involvement.
“There’s no expense with the school system and the benefits with the children is immense,” Peterson described.
Success in the program for students continuously occurs, Jipson describes.
“It is very beneficial for the kids,” Jipson said. “They can open up to somebody they dearly love and they have somebody they can trust in a foster grandparent.”
Jipson shares stories of children moving onto the next grade because their reading level improved after working one-on-one, a little girl finally became comfortable around elders following her time with her classroom Foster Grandpa, and an entire classes reading level sky-rocketed after a foster grandparent worked with an entire classroom list.
“This is a wonderful program that everyone benefits; from the tax payers to the foster grandparent to the schools, the non profit daycare, the students, the teachers, and the community,” Jipson said. “The taxpayers benefit from this program.”
Jipson encourages parents who are interested in the program to give her a call or learn more, or volunteers who believe the program might suit them well.
“When I tell grandparents, and I always start crying,” Jipson said. “It’s a lasting impact and I keep telling them: ‘You never know how much influence you have had with children you serve because they will never come to you and tell you how much you impacted them.’”
Those who want to learn more about becoming a Foster Grandparent can contact Kathy Jipson at 515-443-1007.