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Getting to know the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council

The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council has been in Parkersburg since 1971. Created by an act of the West Virginia Legislature, the regional council promotes, advances and improves the community and economic well-being of the region. It has multiple programs focusing on community development, workforce, transportation, small business financing, business incubators and senior volunteer programs. Last month you heard from Randy Durst, our transportation director who highlighted the Route 14 Pettyville Road Widening Project. Today we would like to introduce you to Janet Somerville with the regional council Foster Grandparent Program.

The Foster Grandparent Program promotes positive volunteer opportunities to income eligible individuals who are 55 and older by providing an environment to mentor children that are identified with special and exceptional needs or circumstances that limit their academic, social or emotional development. The program has a dual purpose. First, to enhance the lives of the children (infants-18 years of age) with special needs through a caring relationship with each other. Second, it enables the Foster Grandparent volunteer (55 or older) to remain physically and mentally active and to enhance their self-esteem through continued participation in the community.

The regional council has been the sponsoring agent of the program since 1984 and serves the counties of Braxton, Brooke, Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Hancock, Jackson, Lewis, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia, Nicholas, Ohio, Pleasants, Preston, Ritchie, Roane, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt and Wood. The regional council Foster Grandparent Program enables individuals 55 and older to serve 15-40 hours per week mentoring to students to improve their primary focus needs through extra one-on-one or small group assistance and support. Foster Grandparent volunteers receive a tax-free hourly stipend of $2.65, travel reimbursement, supplemental accident and liability insurance while serving, special training, recognition, and opportunities to socialize. Foster Grandparent volunteers assist in early childhood programs; elementary, middle and high school classrooms; library programs; and community-based mentoring programs.

“The Foster Grandparent Program has been a fixture at Fairplains Elementary for eight years,” Principal Liz Conrad said. “The program at Fairplains concentrates on assisting students in grade one as they transition from kindergarten and work to become more independent learners. On any given day first grade students are assisted in small groups or are in one to one situations where encouragement of task completion occurs.”

“Our Foster Grandmas form strong relationships with the students and as a result the students will share concerns and are more willing to accept help or constructive suggestions,” she said. “The Foster Grandma’s are that extra someone who serves as a cheerleader for accomplishments big or small and they notice the times students are out of sorts or are in need a little extra attention.”

“As principal, my personal experience with the Foster Grandparent Program began at Jefferson Elementary more than twenty years ago. The program remains mutually beneficial to the schools involved, the students and the Foster Grandparents,” Conrade said. “My one wish would be for the program to expand so that more students could benefit from the unique relationship forged with our first-grade grandmas. It is not unusual to hear students of all ages call out ‘Hi, Mamaw Cathy or Look at me, Nana Alice’! Intergenerational connections are so important and this program serves as a shining example of what our seniors have to offer the community”.

The regional council’s Foster Grandparent Program volunteers touch the lives of and serve as role models for the children and staff where they volunteer. According to the Center for Evidence Based Social Services, older adult mentors can teach social skills, model behavior, give positive or negative reinforcement, and introduce young people to diverse social interactions and contexts. The Foster Grandparent volunteers are proud representatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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