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Foster grandparents wanted to help in county’s schools

By Staff | Aug 24, 2009

When the kids head back to school, foster grandparents are often there with them.
The Foster Grandparent Pro-gram of Southwest Florida is now hiring more volunteers ages 60 and over to provide tutoring and mentoring services to children in elementary schools, daycare and head start programs. Volunteers serve about 20 hours a week.
It is a paid position with a tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour with a transportation reimbursement of 35 cents per mile. It’s not the biggest pay in the world, but volunteers said the experience is worth the time.
The program is directed through the Dr. Piper Center for Social Services. Inc.
“Foster grandparents provide academic help and give emotional support,” said the program’s director, Joan Willoughby. “Due to the lack of teacher’s assistants in the classrooms because of budget cuts, some children could fall through the cracks if it wasn’t for this program.”
North Fort Myers resident Jay Heisel has been involved in the program about five years.
“It’s a great program,” Heisel said. “I work with J. Colin English kindergarten teacher Michelle Phillips. It’s very rewarding, and with kindergarten, every day it is something new.”
Principal Joe Williams Jr. of J. Colin English Elementary said, “The foster grandparents are awesome. They come in, give up their time and are compassionate and very patient toward the students. The students really love to see them come through the door and assist them in center activities.”
Willoughby said she has volunteers at all of the local North Fort Myers Schools.
The heart of the program, Willoughby noted, is the one-on-one time the foster grandparents give to a child in the classroom.
“It’s a two-fold program,” she said. “It helps the children and the seniors. For the seniors, they get the recurring stipend, and we have a fellowship. Some say it makes them feel useful after retirement, when they give back to the community like this.
“I love the volunteers,” Willoughby continued. She has been program director for nine years now. “I love the stories they tell. It’s so uplifting.”
The process to become part of the program includes filling out an application, then a background check is conducted. Once the candidate is approved, then there is training.
Each year there is a party and an activity for all of the volunteers.
“The biggest requirement is that they love children,” Willoughby said.
For information on the program, call Willoughby at the Dr. Piper Center for Social Services Inc. at 332-5346 or e-mail joan@drpipercenter.com.
Individuals, groups or businesses interested in supporting the program can also call the office.
The center is located at 1771 Evans Ave. in Fort Myers.