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Social Issues

Helping out with the kids
You can find these volunteers at day care, in classrooms, even in  juvenile detention centers

Tim Rudell
"Grandma Butler" [Gertrude Butler] in Five Points Day Care classroom
Courtesy of TPR
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In The Region:

A 1960s “War on Poverty” program for older American now aims to enrich lives on both ends of the age spectrum.  WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports on foster grandparents initiatives.

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Helen Cramblett brings to mind “Auntie Em”…stalwart and caring, with home-spun wisdom.  Helen  lives in Sheroddsville in Carroll County and has been a foster grandparent for 15 years.  And, at an appreciation luncheon in New Philadelphia, she says she’s learned two things: there’s no better way to help a child than to be genuinely interested in them; and there is no shortage of children to help. “They’re hungry for attention….(TR: ‘so you plan to keep doing this?’)…I do, as long as I’m mentally and physically able.  I’m ’92 years old. …I’m in good health, I drive." 

The Foster Grandparent system is often associated with cities. But the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development is a non-profit that runs foster grandparent programs in about a third of the state – mostly in rural areas. Gary Goosman is the Director of Seniors Programs. He talks to the luncheon award winners about what they do. “A lot of people when they retire don’t want to go work with children six or eight hours a day and help them learn to read and write and all those things.  It takes a certain dedication, and intensity to get up every day and go do what you do.  And I know you also deal with those discipline problems.  It’s not like it’s a bed of roses every day when you go in there.  Kids have challenges, things going on in their lives.  And that’s what’s important about that you do:  not only [do you]  help them learn to read and write, but [you help them] get through those challenges and difficult times ”  

In 1965, the foster grandparent program was created by the Johnson Administration to provide a small stipend for fixed-income retirees. It paid 90-cents an hour then, now it’s up to two-sixty five. And volunteer seniors typically work four to eight hours a day in schools, and other care facilities for children. 

Sonya Williams, who heads the program in Summit County, says it’s evolved in other ways as well, in urban and rural areas “Now the program is designed more so for two demographics.  Not only the senior citizens, but also the special needs children that they are serving.  So, we have become through the many years a school readiness program.”

 Gertrude Butler, “Grandma Butler” to staff and children alike at the Five Points Day Care center in West Akron, s seated at one of the “little” tables near the back of the room, flanked by toddlers with safety scissors.  She’s been foster grand-parenting for almost 20 years.  “It’s really a blessing to be able to help the children. And I found out, it’s more for me, in a way of speaking [it keeps me going].  Many times I’ve said this is my last year, this is my last year...but I can’t stop.

Foster grandparent programs operate nationwide with funding primarily through the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.  The programs most often work through schools.  With small children the foster grandparents help with motor skills, and recognizing colors, numbers and letters. With older children they often assist with schoolwork, such as improving reading skills, and with socialization.
(Click image for larger view.)

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