Foster grandparents have a lot to offer area children

OKEECHOBEE — The Foster Grandparent Program began in 1965 and is an intergenerational program providing aid to children with special and exceptional needs. The program began as a national demonstration to show that people age 55 and over still have something to offer to society in general and to children in particular. With their maturity and experience, they are able to develop relationships with children who have special or exceptional needs.

The program benefits the seniors by helping them to remain both physically and mentally active, and it increases their sense of self-worth by providing an opportunity for community service. The individual attention provided to the children helps them to meet goals that might otherwise have been out of their reach.

According to its website, “The Area Agency on Aging of Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, Inc. was selected as one of 25 applicants from around the country to implement a Foster Grandparent Program in Palm Beach County in 1997. The original goal was to recruit and train 35 income-eligible senior volunteers to serve as tutors, mentors and reading coaches to children with special and/or exceptional needs. By October of 1998, 41 Foster Grandparents were volunteering in 20 schools and/or Head Start programs. Currently, the Foster Grandparent Program of Your Aging Resource Center has over 150 Foster Grandparent volunteers who serve more than 550 children with special needs in 49 volunteer sites.”

Current funding sources include United Way of Palm Beach County, Corporation for National and Community Service, Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County and Children’s Services Council of Okeechobee County. Other support comes from local partnerships, contributions, and from the sites where Foster Grandparents serve.

To be eligible for the program, you must meet the following criteria:
• You must be at least 55 years old and no longer in the work force.
• You must be willing to commit at least 15 hours per week of your time to the program.
• You must be able to pass a background check.
• You must enjoy working with and respect children.

The seniors who sign up for the program receive a tax-free hourly stipend, transportation reimbursement, lunch allowance, an annual physical exam, training, recognition events and opportunities to socialize. The foster grandparents are assigned to both Head Start and to public schools, and they spend their time working with children who has special needs.

The Area on Aging website gives an example of a young boy who was helped by a foster grandpa in the program. The little boy was just entering school after losing his mother to a hit and run accident, and he was very withdrawn. He struggled academically, and was far behind his peers. Each morning, he would just sit and look around until he was introduced to Grandpa Spence. With the love and encouragement he received from his grandpa, the boy began to progress emotionally and academically.

For more information on how you can get involved in this program, call 866-684-5885.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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