Grandparent program gives seniors a chance for impact



For some people, retirement is a time to enjoy the activities they didn?t have time to do during their working years. For others, the transition can be difficult.

The Foster Grandparent Program exists to give both men and women an opportunity to share their experiences, hope and compassion with children, according to Linda Chase of Winfield, program director for 19 years.

?This is a win-win program for seniors and children, providing an intergenerational connection,? Chase said.

Her focus is on the seniors and what the program can do for them.

?I have seen people who are down, and they get into the schools and their whole outlook changes for the better,? she said. ?It gives seniors a lot of reasons to get up and get going in the morning.?

Chase said she is responsible for a nine-county area that includes Marion, Cowley, Butler, Chautauqua, Elk, Greenwood, Sumner, Harvey and Reno counties.

Currently, she has 60 seniors involved, with Newton and Harvey counties among the bigger programs.

?Marion is a new county to me,? she said.

One reason the program has a foothold in Marion, she said, is because Hazel Hoffner, formerly with the program in Newton, moved to Marion and started it there.

Even though the program is voluntary, seniors do get an hourly stipend of $2.65 for 20 hours, up to 40 hours per week.

?It?s not a lot of money, but for some people, it can help buy their groceries and medicines?and they get a free meal,? Chase said.

?Grandparents don?t do it for the money,? she added. ?They do it because they want to help children on the path toward a successful future.?

Hazel Hoffner and Madonna Shaffer, who work with Head Start in the Marion-Florence school district, agree it?s a rewarding experience.

?I had a friend in Newton who was involved in the program,? Hoffner said, ?and she was always saying how much fun she was having with kids.?

Hoffner said she was going through a tough time following a car accident, but decided to try it.

?It gave me a reason to get up in the morning because I knew I was going to see the kids,? she said.

Four years later, Hoffner continues to work with Head Start children because she likes what she does. Some of the children she had the privilege to work with still remember her.

?When I see some of the children who are now in first, second or third grade, they are glad to see me,? she said. ?I feel good because maybe I have touched their lives in some way.?

Hoffner said she likes getting hugs.

Following Hoffner?s move to Marion, she discovered there wasn?t a Foster Grandparent Program in any of the county schools.

Seeing how beneficial the program was for both seniors and students in Newton, Hoffner called Chase to see what could be done about organizing something in Marion.

In order to begin a program, at least three children need to benefit from someone being in the classroom.

During a normal day, Hoffner helps with socialization skills.

?At the morning breakfast, (children) take their food and pass it to the next person, pour milk and pass it along, with the kids taking turns setting the table,? she said.

Another way Hoffner helps the Head Start teacher is by assisting children who are the ?pet helper? or table setters.

?It is their job to feed the fish and care for the hermit crab,? she said.

Along with socialization skills, Hoffner helps with spelling or math and reading one-on-one.

A minimum of 20 hours is required for volunteers, but Hoffner said she volunteers 40 hours.

?I am there from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,? she said. ?I eat lunch with them and I am there until the last kids leave at 3:45 p.m.?

For Hoffner, she said she plans on doing the job as long as she is needed. The other grandparent, Shaffer, also came from the Newton area and has been working in Marion for the last two years, Chase said.

Hoffner said volunteers are always needed, particularly more men.

The volunteers meet monthly in Winfield for training.

Hoffner said it would be good to have a better balance of men and women foster grandparents.

?I really believe in what I am doing (with the program) and I wish I could get more people involved?it can be a perfect fit,? she said. ?For me to have done this the last four years means I am getting something out of it.?

The Foster Grandparent Program is funded through the Corporation for National & Community Service, Chase said.

?As a foster grandparent, you are a role model, a mentor and a friend,? she added.

Participants in the program can serve at Head Start centers, schools, faith-based groups and other youth facilities.

For more information, Chase encourages people to call her at 620-229-8608 or write to 1407 Wheat Road, Winfield, KS 67156.

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