Program puts caring mentors in the classroom

Foster Grandparents program celebrates 45 years in WyCo

by Bob Hart
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “It’s not just about the kids,” said Sister Jane Jackson, SCL, of Wyandotte County’s Foster Grandparents program. “It’s also about us older folks — getting us out in the community, so we’re not just sitting around at home doing nothing.”

Sister Jane should know. She’s one of 90 foster grandparents, ages 60 to 94, who work anywhere from 15 to 40 hours a week with children ranging from infants to high school-age. The Foster Grandparents program gives older, low-income adults the opportunity to use their talents, skills and wisdom in the service of at-risk or special-needs children in the community.

Nationally, Foster Grandparents is a program of the Senior Corps, a U.S. government agency under the authority of the Corporation for National and Community Service. The national pro- gram was founded in 1965 and is open to men and women 55 years of age or older.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the federal program in Wyandotte County, and it has been sponsored by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas since 1976. Mayor Joe Reardon, of Kansas City, Kan., even declared Aug. 6 “Foster Grandparents Day” to recognize the volunteers who work in Head Starts, public schools and day care centers throughout the county.

Volunteers must meet certain income guidelines to participate, according to the Catholic Charities’ Web site. Those who do are paid a stipend for the hours they work and are provided with meals and transportation to and from volunteer sites. Volunteers receive training both before they begin work and after they have been assigned to a site.

Sister Jane, a retired schoolteacher, said she spends her morning working with kindergartners and afternoons with first-graders.

“For most of them, English is not their first language,” she said. “They’re little ones, so they’re learning their alphabet, sounds, days of the week, months of the year. And some of them will be reading by the end of the year.”

Charlotte Melson of the Wyandotte County Foster Grandparents said that while the program has always been valuable, it fulfills a specific need in times of economic strife.

“This program has truly made a difference in the Wyandotte County community by the generosity and dedication of these older adults who care about making a difference in the life of a child,” Melson said. “The Foster Grandparents program puts caring mentors in the classroom to assist the teacher in this time of school district financial hardship.”

More information about the local Foster Grandparents program is available by calling (913) 906-8921.

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