By Katie Clark
On this snowy morning, first-grade students wander into the classroom after hanging up their coats, snow pants, and backpacks. Their classroom Foster Grandma is there to greet them gathering up hugs and morning stories. She reminds them to order their lunch and get ready for the day to start. The classroom teacher is thankful for this extra set of arms and ears as she gets ready to start class.
Tori Nader, of White Cloud, is one such volunteer. She’s volunteered in Stephanie Cruzan’s 1st-grade classroom at White Cloud Elementary every day, all day since last March.
“Having a foster grandparent in my classroom has helped my students in many ways., states Cruzan. “‘Grandma Tori’ has established rapport and a special, unique bond with each of my students this year. They are always eager to find out who gets to sit with her at her table in the morning to do Morning Practice. She just automatically goes into grandma-mode when she helps tie shoes, zip coats, fix books, or gives hugs. I’ve had volunteers through the Foster Grandparents program for about three consecutive years, then several years without. This program allows students and senior volunteers to establish relationships and support education. It is much appreciated, and I hope that it continues for many years.”
Every year, our Governor sends out a proclamation recognizing the vital Foster Grandparents program. This year, Wednesday, January 22 was Foster Grandparents Volunteer Recognition Day within Michigan’s Mentoring Recognition Month of January. Through Catholic Charities Senior Corps Foster Grandparent Program, twenty seniors volunteer in the six different Newaygo County Public classrooms, working with students each day to give them additional support. Chelsea Clark, NC Senior Corps Coordinator, explains, “Our Foster Grandparents serve 225 students a year and give a combined average of 46,000 hours of service. Each day, they make a positive difference in the lives of children and teachers. In addition, our seniors find a deep sense of purpose and report the benefits of staying active and having meaningful connections with the children and staff at their schools.”
Grandma Tori is busy the moment she arrives at 7:30 am until she leaves at 3:15 pm. “My day starts with waiting at the front door to greet a student and guide him to the classroom as he is very social. I help him with getting into the classroom quickly. I then work with three students at my table to do morning ‘seat work’. Not that they need help, but because it’s special to sit with Gr’ma. I also work with students by helping to sound out words, ask questions before a test, listen to them read, and sometimes repair torn classroom library books.”
She helps students stay on task and encourages students to continually try when they get discouraged. During the times students are out of the classroom, she helps Cruzan set-up the learning stations that the students will be working on after their gym or music class. Once the students return, Grandma Tori works with one small group at a time with extra math or reading practice. Now and then, she helps them complete an art project-glue, glitter, grins, and all. She takes great care to help students rework or finish learning practices to make sure that they are fully understanding.
When Grandma Tori started with the Foster Grandparent Program last March, she helped to further the building-wide program called Character Cards by creating an end of the year auction. As students demonstrate positive behaviors (respect, on-task, work-completion, kindness, etc) during the day, she or Cruzan will give them a Character Card. Nader then went out and purchased toys for an end-of-the-year Character Card Auction which was a big hit with the students. “The kids loved it as I made sure that everyone got something, and now that they know to expect the auction, the behavior patterns have improved.”
Clark gives an initial orientation training to every new volunteer to the Foster Grandparent Program and then plans and gives her volunteers six continuing half-day trainings in the spring and fall each year. They are trained on meaningful topics such as relationship building, working with youth of different backgrounds and struggles, and even self-care. Clark visits the classrooms on a monthly basis to make sure all is going well and help to solve any needs or issues. “Most of our Foster Grandparents are women at this time, but we have a Foster Grandpa starting this week. We are always in need of more volunteers,” Clark states.
New Volunteers Wanted
Qualifications for being a Foster Grandparent are the ability to give the kind of comfort and love that sets a child on the path toward a successful future. If you’re 55 or older and want to share your experience and compassion, you have what it takes. If you would like to find out more information about the Newaygo County Foster Parent Program, contact Chelsea Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.