OTTUMWA — "It's so rewarding to see faces light up when they finally 'get it.'"
"I get lots of hugs. He thinks I'm his real grandma."
"I can give love where it's needed and wanted."
"It provides a stable adult to listen to them and encourage them."
"It helps me because I'm not alone all the time."
"There are some funny stories, some sad stories, but mostly triumphant stories."
"There are days I just listen and let them know I care."
Thirty-three Foster Grandparent participants were part of the annual recognition banquet at the Hotel Ottumwa Thursday evening, and all of the stories were the same: It's a powerful, life-changing program.
The goal of the program is to offer meaningful volunteer opportunities to Wapello County seniors to focus primarily on reading with children who may be at risk of falling behind in school due to lack of adequate reading skills. The volunteers spend 15-40 hours each week in supervised settings like elementary schools, YMCA, Head Start centers and other community agencies who provide services for children.
The FGP is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service as part of Senior Corps. The local sponsor is American Home Finding Association.
Nationally, the program will turn 50 years old in 2015, and it has been in Ottumwa since 2000. While the numbers have fluctuated over the years, project director Debra Adam says the devotion and dedication of the grandmas and grandpas keep it going.
"I'm approaching retirement age, and I feel like this is the best thing someone can do," she said.
The evening included recognition of each school and agency that foster grandparents work with. Principals, teachers, supervisors and administrators were on hand to show their support of the grandmas and grandpas, but they also received their own special moment.