The Quad Area Community Action Agency — which works to improve the quality of lives of low-income residents through programs involving education, employment, health, housing, veterans services and recreation — has sponsored the Foster Grandparent Program for the past 39 years.
A national program that focuses primarily on mutual beneficial relationships between older people and children, the Foster Grandparent Program will celebrate its 50th anniversary in September, and Quad Area CAA is sending 12 foster grandparents to the national conference in Washington, D.C.
Foster grandparents are volunteers 55 and older who keep a regular schedule of 20 hours per week by assisting children younger than 18 with educational, social and developmental skills via one-on-one settings.
“The program helps senior volunteers as much as it helps the students,” said Sandra Cavalier, director of Foster Grandparent in Livingston Parish.
Currently, there are 98 foster grandparents serving the seven parishes of Quad Area CAA at 31 nonprofits throughout Ascension, East Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington and West Feliciana parishes.
The two newest seniors to join the program are Charlene George and Kathy Trischell, who spend time working with kindergartners at Clinton Elementary.
“I want to be a positive influence on the students there, and volunteering to help them gives me purpose and a reason to get up each morning,” Trischell said. “I relish my interaction with the children as well as with the teachers and have seen a positive difference already.”
Both George and Trischell work with the youth in reviewing their ABCs and numbers and assisting them with writing their names.
“We all work with the students one-on-one to keep them on task during classroom time,” George added.
Additionally, six foster grandparents volunteer at Jackson Head Start, an early childhood development center for 3- to 5-year-olds, three more volunteer at Clinton Head Start and two others serve at Quad Area CAA’s Literacy Center, also in Clinton.
Cavalier said the volunteers receive a nontaxable stipend of $2.65 per hour, travel reimbursement to and from each school, daily meals while volunteering, uniforms and an annual physical exam. They also earn recognition at luncheons, day trips and holiday events and gatherings, as well as paid vacation and sick leave.
“This allows our volunteers to serve in their communities at no expense to themselves,” Cavalier said. “Mainly, the purpose is to create meaningful relationships with children by providing love, encouragement and companionship. The seniors provide a service that addresses community needs and connects generations.”
Volunteers listen, mentor, tutor, assist with school subjects and encourage, she said.
“The rewards are tenfold. Unconditional love, socialization with other peers, the feeling of being needed and useful, and making an impact on children’s lives are what our volunteers have reported experiencing,” Cavalier said. “Also, I think it improves self-esteem.”
To learn more about the Foster Grandparent Program, call Cavalier at (225) 686-3811.