Foster grandparents make a difference
For many old age is a time of retirement, of doing what one wants. In some minds it a period in which a person can just relax, and take it easy.
But for many senior citizens, there is more to life than taking it easy. In fact, true to the values of their youth they want to make a difference. One way to do that is the Foster Grandparent Program.
Utah's Foster Grandparent Program (FGP), operates in Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan, and Tooele Counties. These counties have two commonalities. First, they are all rural, depressed counties and they have limited resources available to senior citizens. They also have a combined population of 95,909 and with 14.44 percent of this population being seniors.
The FGP improves the living conditions of the seniors who call one of these counties home. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, 13.7 percent of persons living in these counties are below poverty level.
FGP provides opportunities for limited-income people age 60 and older to serve their communities by providing one-on-one tutoring to at-risk children and youth in schools and Head Start programs. Foster Grandparents serve from 15 to 40 hours a week and receive a stipend of $2.65 an hour. They also receive accident and liability insurance, meals while on duty, reimbursement for transportation, and on-going training. Foster grandparents provide the extra care and attention at-risk young people need to experience academic achievement, in addition to growing and developing the strong mental, emotional and social interaction skills that are essential to their ability to reach their maximum potential. During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, 41 senior volunteers provided 26,960 hours of service while providing an understanding, caring role model for the youth served.
The Foster Grandparent Program has two distinct target populations. The first is children, three to 18 years of age. These children may come from economically depressed homes where basic needs are often barely being met. More and more children are being raised in single parent families or in homes where both parents are working. They have minimal educational skills and parental involvement is sporadic.
The increasing numbers of immigrant families in Utah bring new challenges and language barriers. Additionally, Utah's Early Childhood Blueprint for Progress shows that 30-40 percent of children entering school have a health or developmental condition that potentially interferes with their readiness to learn. By pairing an at-risk child with a caring adult, that child's special needs can be addressed and the child will have a better chance of success in school.
The second target population is composed of individuals who are 60 years of age and older and who meet established income eligibility guidelines (125 percent of poverty level). Most of those who currently qualify for the program are women with very limited income, and the stipend they earn as foster grandparents dramatically improves their quality of life and ability to live independently. Social Security benefits are often minimal and do not cover their cost of living, no matter how modest their living accommodations. These seniors on a limited income are given an opportunity to receive a stipend for their service and thereby improve their quality of life.
Teachers and principals in schools and Head Start programs utilizing foster grandparents report improved performance by those receiving tutoring and are requesting the involvement of even more seniors than are currently serving. Volunteers are recruited through local agencies serving seniors, such as senior centers, pharmacies, medical centers and hospitals, etc. Recruitment strategies include advertising in local newspapers, city newsletters, agency newsletters and posting flyers and announcements in community centers, stores, schools and doctors' offices.
New volunteers receive information and training from station coordinators. Volunteers are then offered a position based on their current interest, knowledge, skill and availability. Ongoing trainings and monthly in-services provided by Volunteers of America, Utah are open to local community agencies interested in participating as well as volunteers, station supervisors and coordinators.
Each year a volunteer recognition event is held to allow volunteers who are in diverse sites to meet with one another and discuss in person the successes and challenges that are being experienced. It is an opportunity for Volunteers of America, Utah and the community to express their appreciation of the individuals who are giving so much to their local communities.
The FGP is funded by a variety of public and private sources, including renewable government contracts with United Way of Salt Lake and Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). FGP's total budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year is $278,132. The fundraising goal for this program from foundations and corporations is $65,000 with the balance of the program expenses being supplied from on-going contracts.
The FGP's sponsoring organization, Volunteers of America, is a national non-profit, faith-based organization providing local human service programs and opportunities for individual and community involvement. The Utah affiliate serves over 10,000 individuals throughout the state each year. Volunteers of America, Utah operates 10 human service programs in the areas of homeless outreach, substance abuse detoxification and treatment, domestic violence counseling, substance abuse prevention, and senior volunteer services.
For more information about the program interested parties can call 435-381-2765.