Foster Grandparents Sought to Connect with Area Youth

By Lura Jackson

 

If you are an older member of our community that would like to share your presence, knowledge and guidance with our youth, the Foster Grandparent Program offers an excellent and rewarding opportunity to do so. Through the program, individuals that are at least 55 years of age can receive a modest, untaxable stipend while helping to build support for the future by interacting with children in a setting of their choice.

The Foster Grandparent Program is a national initiative that is presently underway in 14 of Maine’s counties. In Washington County, approximately 65 participants are working in a variety of settings – from one-on-one work to small groups – to share mutual enrichment with their foster grandchildren.

In Calais, Helen Brooks has become “Grammie Helen” to the children of Calais Free Library, where she spends 15 hours a week reading to the children, hearing them read, coloring and working on crafts. She bonds with many of the children she works with. In reflecting on the three years she has been a part of the program, she shared a single instance that encapsulates the experience. “A young lad from the local school picked me as his friend—a real Grammie Helen. We would talk, he would read to me and sometimes we would play a game. Other times we worked on a craft. It was a very special time, and for me, it was a moment of sharing my love. I missed him during the summer. This is what makes this program important.”

“The design of this program provides a dual benefit to two of our most vulnerable populations: senior citizens and children,” said Mary-Anne Saxl, Coordinator of Foster Grandparent Program. “The rewards for both generations that occur during this relationship are monumental.”

In addition to the invaluable reward of connecting with the youth, foster grandparents receive a nontaxable stipend (currently $2.65 an hour). “It’s not a lot, but it does help,” Brooks shared. The stipend will not affect benefits such as LIHEAP, food stamps and rent and cannot be considered income for any purposes. There are income guidelines for foster grandparents: they must make less than $24,280 if living alone or less than $32,920 if living with a companion.

There are currently five foster grandparents in Washington County, including Brooks, most of them serving in various roles in public schools. Participants can generally opt to work with the age group of their choice, up to 21 years of age. “We would be pleased to have many more join our volunteer team,” Saxl said.  

 

To find out more about the Foster Grandparent Program, visit www.maineservicecommission.gov/national-service/foster-grandparents or call Saxl at 973-3684.