The Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) is looking for volunteers. The program links local children with “exceptional or special needs” with low-income seniors, ages 55 and up, who serve as positive role models.
FGP sends the senior volunteers to Alachua County Public Schools, local charter schools, childcare centers and after-school programs throughout the county. The program aims to help the seniors stay physically and mentally active and to boost their self-esteem through community service.
The program used to have 60-65 volunteers, but numbers fell during COVID-19. Now there are closer to 40 foster grandparents in Alachua County, so Theresa Jewell, program specialist, said the program is trying to get the word out to rebuild the volunteer base.
The children mentored through the program must have special needs or exceptional circumstances, but those categories are broad, according to Jewell.
Children could have a physical illness or disability, or they could have an unstable environment that limits their academic, social or emotional development. Their teachers make the call on which students might benefit from a foster grandparent.
The teachers also supervise all interactions between students and foster grandparents. Depending on academic levels and other factors, these interactions can range from tutoring to simply providing “unconditional support” for the children.
“A lot of the times they are there to be a cheerleader,” Jewell said. “To let the kids know that somebody cares and knows that they will eventually get it, regardless of how frustrated they may be feeling.”
Jewell helps the volunteers with their paperwork and timesheets to receive a stipend of $4 per hour. Volunteers can sign up for anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week, but Jewell said most work 20-25. She said her favorite part of the program is how happy the seniors are to get out of their houses and do meaningful work.
Once a year, the Foster Grandparent Program has a recognition ceremony for its volunteers. This year, the Dec. 1 ceremony will mark the program’s 50th anniversary.
Besides the stipend, recognition and personal fulfillment, the volunteers receive several other benefits, including:
- Supplemental medical and automobile insurance
- Transportation provided or reimbursement for mileage up to 20 miles per day
- Daily meal or meal reimbursement
- Free annual physical examination
- Paid personal leave benefits
- Opportunities to meet new people and enhanced socialization
- A learning environment where volunteers share and gain new skills
While the program is only open to low-income seniors, Jewell said the calculating eligibility is complicated, and some may be able to participate who don’t think they qualify. She said if anyone is interested, they should call 352-264-6730 to get more information and find out if they are eligible.