Editor's Note: This is the next in a series of stories about the member agencies of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
PARKERSBURG - Foster Grandparents lend their wisdom, experience and love helping children in classrooms, Head Start Programs and early childhood programs.
The Foster Grandparent Program receives $4,500 from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Foster Grandparent Jeanette Anderson works with students at Walton Elementary School.
Through the program, those 55 and older who qualify as low income under federal government income guidelines are placed in schools, Head Starts and day care centers in Wood, Wirt, Calhoun, Jackson, Marshall, Pleasants, Ohio, Tyler, Wetzel, Roane and Ritchie counties.
Janet Somerville, program director, said the United Way funds are used for transportation costs, recognition and to conduct criminal background checks and physicals for the foster grandparents.
"We transport the foster grandparents to and from their homes to their station sites," Somerville said.
There are currently 112 volunteers in the program, with the oldest foster grandparent being 92-year-old Nona Huxley, who works at the Dudley Avenue Head Start Program in Parkersburg.
The foster grandparents work 15-40 hours a week serving as mentors to children in need. They receive a small tax-free stipend and a meal on the days they serve as a foster grandparent, a yearly physical, monthly training and 40 hours of orientation.
Teachers who have foster grandparents working with children in their classes have high praise for the program.
"As a first grade teacher at Wirt County Primary Center, I have been blessed to have a foster grandmother in my room for several years," said teacher Rebecca McClung. "My grandma is an essential part of the daily school routine. She is essentially a grandma to every student who comes through my door whether helping them with academics or just giving a hug when needed. My grandma has become my right hand," she said.
Aimee Morrison, also a first grade teacher at Wirt County Primary, said words could not express how grateful she feels to have the foster grandparent program at the school.
"The grandmas have become an integral part of our classrooms. Students benefit greatly by all the support they are given to meet both academic and emotional needs. The grandmother in the classroom helps me in any way she can. Her caring attitude and hard work ethic has made her invaluable to me. I am able to do a better job instructing my students because of her support. We all love our foster grandma," Morrison said.
Melinda Parkins, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Walton Elementary School in Roane County, said their foster grandmother goes above and beyond what is expected of her.
"She is very caring and loving with the students. She brings a special quality to our classroom and she is missed by both the staff and the children when she is not here. Grandma Jeanette is able to help make pre-kindergarten a wonderful experience for these children. She helps them feel comfortable and loved as they begin their academic journey," Parkins said.
Fawn Gray, a preschool instructor at Walton Elementary/Middle School, said her foster grandmother has been a great addition to her classroom.
"In addition to being an extra set of eyes and ears, she also helps the children in acquiring skills. She sometimes works one-on-one with a child or small group. She helps students learning to write their names along with letter recognition, sorting and other skills. She is always available to read stories to the children or provide a little one-on-one attention," Gray said.
Foster Grandparents is a National Senior Service Corps Program. The local program is headquartered at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council offices at 531 Market St., Parkersburg. Anyone interested in learning more about the program, or seeing if they might be eligible to become a foster grandparent, can contact Somerville at 304-422-4993, extension 132.