For 50 years, a unique experience has been available to allow senior adults and school-aged children a chance to bond.
The Foster Grandparent Program, part of Central Missouri Community Action, allows seniors age 55 and older to offer children emotional and educational support in an educational setting.
Volunteer Coordinator Kim Shelmadine has worked hard to recruit seniors in Central Missouri. So far, there are 75-80 Foster Grandparents in Audrain, Cole, Boone and Randolph counties. Shelmadine is seeking volunteers for Moniteau County, where there currently are no foster grandparents.
"The kids are learning more and enjoy seeing their foster grandparents come in," Shelmadine said. "The grandparents come up and bring books to their children and help in math or whatever else the kids may be struggling in."
Foster Grandparents started in 1965, when the late Sargent Shriver noticed through a visit to a nursing home that many residents were "not doing much," Shelmadine said. "They were just there."
The next visit Shriver took was to a preschool. Noticing the young children's energy and general zest for life, Shriver put a team together and decided it would be worth a try to combine the two generations. The turnout has been a positive one.
"The volunteers love it," Shelmadine said. "It helps the kids and it helps the grandparents feel they have a purpose. Some say they wake up to do this. One told me 'it gives me life.'"
One such foster grandparent in Mexico, has been with the program for just under 19 years. The kicker is she is 96 years old.
While the program is a volunteer opportunity, it has a number of benefits for those involved. A tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour is paid, as long as the foster grandparent works 15 hours each week. As this payment is legally not considered a wage, it does not factor into the household income or affect services the volunteer may be receiving.
Fourteen holidays in the academic year are paid with an added 12 hours earned for time off each month. In the event of a snow day, the foster grandparent will be paid along with teacher work days and when the school is closed. A meal is also paid for during their shift.
Limited accident and liability insurance is covered, when on duty, as well as mileage.
CMCA said there is another benefit that means more than all the rest.
"The greatest benefit of all is the renewed sense of purpose in the lives of our volunteers," CMCA said in a release. "And that bit of extra attention shared with the child making them know they're special and loved."
For more information on the Foster Grandparent Program, contact Director Julie McNeill at 573-443-8706, extension 1131, or Volunteer Coordinator Kim Shelmadine at 573-443-8706, extension 1129.