Published on July 7, 2016
The national Foster Grandparent Program began in August of 1965 with a dual purpose of engaging limited-income people aged 55 and older in volunteer service to meet the needs of their community and enriching the lives of their elderly volunteers. The program is part of Senior Corps, which is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Currently, there are more than 33,000 Foster Grandparent Program volunteers nationwide. The program has been with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans for over 30 years.
The role of each foster grandparent is to provide one-on-one assistance to troubled children with exceptional needs in classroom settings. They serve as tutors, mentors and role models for 15 to 40 hours each week. They provide emotional support, model appropriate behavior, assist with adjustment to new people and places and encourage socialization with other children.
By sharing their empathy, experiences and wisdom with a younger generation, the program allows older individuals to remain physically and mentally active and to enhance their self-esteem and independence. Not only does volunteering as a foster grandparent allow them to spend time with children, but the elderly also get to visit with other seniors. Many foster grandparents have commented they feel like they have a purpose in the community and are still needed. Being a foster grandparent keeps them from becoming lonely and isolated.
Foster grandparents aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits. The children also benefit from having a consistent person in their lives who provides unconditional love, support and positivity. Oftentimes, these children don’t have a stable family structure. A foster grandparent serves as the comforter, helper and grandparent figure that many children need. They make the children feel unconditionally loved and important.
Shelli Simeon, Foster Grandparent Program Director, commented, “Our community has a high percentage of children who are unable to read or who have fallen two to three grade levels behind in reading and become disengaged at school. Foster grandparents help them improve their literacy skills, build confidence and increase engagement.” Teachers often report an increase in social, emotional and developmental skills in children who have the support of a foster grandparent in their classroom.
The Foster Grandparents Program is valuable to the community because it provides intergenerational exposure, helps seniors remain active in their community and enhances the lives of children. Simeon often hears stories of children who run into their foster grandparents years later, and they always remember “grandma or grandpa from school.”
Catholic Charities’ Foster Grandparent Program serves 20 sites in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, including public, private and charter schools and Head Start facilities. Currently, there are 83 active Foster Grandparent Program volunteers offering thousands of hours of their time each year. Two of our foster grandparents have been volunteering for 23 years, and another recently celebrated her 93rd birthday!
In April, long-time foster grandparent, Bobbie Bridges, received the Joseph Massenburg Memorial Award for Excellence in National Service from Mayor Mitch Landrieu for her work with The Foster Grandparent Program.
If you or someone you know is 55 or older and wants to share your experience and compassion with children in our community, contact Shelli Simeon at [email protected] or (504) 310-6882.