Thursday, June 2, 2005

Foster grandparent program seeks applicants

Staff Writer

Two or three individuals are being sought for training as foster grandparents for the school year beginning in August, according to Arledia Bennett, director of the Lafayette County Foster Grandparent Program.

“The program builds bridges of love and kindness by linking older volunteers with children with special or exceptional needs,” she said. “Both the foster grandparents and the children benefit through the love they exchange.”

Foster grandparents are selected from the low-income, 60 and older population. They serve four hours a day, five days a week in a school program.

Those who are hired receive a stipend, transportation, meals, insurance and a yearly physical examination, Bennett said.

Locally, Elmira Curry has been serving as a foster grandparent for over six years, beginning by working with children in the second, third and fourth grades in the Layfayette County School District. Curry now works at the Primary School in Holly Springs.

“It is great,” Curry said. “I could have been in the program a few years earlier, but now that I have accepted the position, I don’t want to miss.”

She provides a lot to the children of Clara Isom’s second grade.

“She listens to students read and say their vocabulary words, she helps with their math, and she shares her own life experiences with children,” Isom said. “She is real valuable to children. They come to look forward to Mrs. Curry. She is another set of hands. This lady’s been a godsend to me.”

Students take turns reading or practicing their vocabulary words after they have finished their in-class assignments.

“This has really meant a lot to me because I was just sitting at home before I got into this program,” Curry said.

Some good times are shared when Curry listens to the students read stories about the old times when much work was done in the household or on the family farm.

Curry sometimes brings articles that were used a half-century ago to show the children - a rubbing board for scrubbing laundry, canned fruit, old clothing, a butter churn. Children hear stories of life and chores on the farm.

“They read stories about the old-time school house and I tell them my story,” Curry said. “They tell me their grandparents have told them stories and it is good to know some children have heard about the good old days.”

Kids ask a lot of questions, some need a hug or extra attention. Sometimes Curry goes with them on a field trip or to a zoo. The bigger children help keep track of the more rambunctious ones who want to run ahead, she said.

Principal Joseph Stone said he is glad to have a foster grandparent in school and had tried for three years to get one after he learned about the program in Oxford and that Curry was working there.

“It means we have someone who can mentor and bond with our kids,” Stone said. “She’s also a tutor.”

Stone said Curry is just like a mother and a grandmother, able to help in other ways than just the academic side.

“She’s been a big plus for us,” he said. “I wish we had more. She’s always here willing to do whatever she can to help the kids.”

Both men and women may apply for the program. Bennett said the work they do has been remarkable.

“They assist with educational activities, daily living skills, go for walks or strolls, serve as a friend to talk to and offer lots of love, warmth and friendship,” she said. “They are real “grandparents” to many children.

“With loving help from our older citizens, many young people are getting off to a better start in life.”

She said the foster grandparents also benefit from richer lives.

“It’s hard to say who benefits more from the foster grandparent program - the children or the elderly who participate - but one thing is for sure, it fills the voids and gaps in the lives of the young and old and provides memories that no one can ever take away from these people.”

Lafayette County Foster Grandparents serve at Bramlett Elementary, Oxford Elementary, Scott Child Development Center, Oxford Learning Center, North Mississippi Regional Center, Lafayette Elementary, Batesville Elementary and Gordon Head Start.

Bennett said applications will be available by June 1 at the Holly Springs Primary School or interested persons may call the Oxford office at 662-513-7765.

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