Image: Corene Gaulden Foster Grandparent Volunteer
The Fort Wayne Foster Grandparent program, sponsored by Lutheran Life Villages, engages volunteer senior citizens who wish to tutor low-income children with special educational needs.
The national program, funded by the Corporation for National & Community Service and other community supporters, began in 1965; the Fort Wayne office was one of 20 pilot programs in the country at the time. As of 2018, 300+ Foster Grandparent programs have been established in the U.S.
According to Fort Wayne Foster Grandparent director, Shelley Philipps, a volunteer “can come from any walk of life, as long as they are able to give the children one-on-one attention they need. Anybody can help a kindergartner learn their ABC’s and learn social skills.”
Volunteers do not need to possess a lot of education, but have to meet the requirements set by the program. Senior citizens of at least 55 years of age looking to volunteer must have incomes no greater than 200% of the poverty level.
“The government decides what is poverty,” Philipps said. According to the director, 200% poverty translates to $2,000 per month in income for a single person living alone and $2,700 per month in combined income for a couple, including social security and disability benefits.
Volunteers typically work in communities where they live (within driving or walking distance) and usually out of appropriate and designated sites like the Boys & Girls Club, Easters Seals ARC, and various Headstarts. Elementary schools, like Lincoln Elementary and Timothy Johnson Academy, are heavily represented on the program’s list of 21 sites.
Volunteer Corene Gaulden works out of Southwick Elementary. She attended the well-attended recognition luncheon held on Friday, May 18 for the volunteer grandparents at Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation’s Community Center downtown. One volunteer at the luncheon has been with the program for 21 years. Gaulden has been Foster Grandparents for three years.
“I recommend the Foster Grandparent program to anyone, and it’s not just for ladies,” Gaulden said. According to Director Philipps, Fort Wayne has only five male grandparent volunteers to about 65 female.
Volunteer Gaulden continued. “Sometimes when people retire, they just want to sit around and do nothing, but I think a body in motion stays in motion,” she said. “Children are the best people in the world to work with. They learn from us, but--guess what?--we learn from them too.”
A stipend of $2.65 an hour is allotted for volunteers, who are also reimbursed for their bus fare or mileage. 20-30 hours a week are required; five children are assigned per tutor (with about 30 minutes per child). Details of the children are not divulged to the program for privacy reasons. “We just track their improvement from the beginning of school to the end of school,” Philipps said. “We don’t need to know how they improve, we just need to know if they improved.”
According to the director, improvement is especially vital for the program’s recipients. “Our special needs criteria is low income children because they tend to be behind their peers,” Philipps said. “Our goal is to get the children reading at a third grade level by the time they hit third grade so that they can compete with their peers.”
To volunteer for the Foster Grandparents program (or to ask any questions), contact Director Shelley Philipps at (260) 426-2273, 233 West Main Street (Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation’s Community Center), Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802, firstname.lastname@example.org.