“When you have taught for as long as I had before retiring, you need a kid fix,” said Judy Whitcomb of Hobart who retired after teaching for 37 years in the Chicagoland area. “And that’s what the Foster Grandparents Program is about. It’s a unique opportunity to work with students and help them academically and/or emotionally, and it’s good for me to be teaching children again. It helps everyone.”
As a foster grandparent, Whitcomb helps students at Queen of All Saints School in Michigan City with their studies.
“We work one-on-one or in small groups,” she said. “It gives you the chance to help students individually. That’s something that’s difficult for teachers to do when they have big classrooms.”
Illness sidelined Whitcomb last year but she’s hoping to return to helping students after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It’s not only valuable for the students,” she said. “But it’s also valuable for the foster grandparents as well.”
The America Corps Senior Foster Grandparents Program, part of the Northwest Indiana Community Action Corporation, serves Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties. It is part of a nationwide program, which includes tutoring opportunities among its outreach.
“We currently have 10 foster grandparents volunteering at Beveridge Elementary School and Bethune Early Learning and Childhood Development Center in Lake County and Paladin Head Start and Queen of All Saints School in LaPorte County,” said Veronica Castellanos, AmeriCorps Seniors Program manager.
Those interested in participating and are 55 years or older undergo a process similar to applying for a job.
AmeriCorps senior staff collaborates with school representatives in identifying those students with special or exceptional needs to ensure that their issues are addressed according to their situation. Some, such as children who are victims of abuse or neglect or have physical limitations, have multiple needs.
The Foster Grandparent Program is designed so that once these needs are identified, an individualized student assignment plan outlines the steps that should be implemented to foster growth and improvement.
Program staff evaluates the plans to identify the volunteer best suited to the student, said Castellanos. “We also try our best to keep the volunteer working in the community they reside.
Also determined is how much time the foster grandparent and student should work together toward their goals – once a week to five days a week.
When working with students in kindergarten through 12th grade, foster grandparents spend half of their time tutoring and the other half mentoring. For early learning ages and children in Head Start, volunteers assist at developing and improving school readiness skills.
“Seniors can volunteer a minimum of five hours per week and a maximum of 40 hours per week Monday through Friday, depending on school hours of operation,” said Castellanos. “Volunteers are expected to spend a minimum of one hour per student per week.”
Currently more volunteers are needed to work with students.
“Schools and student programs are short-handed just like every other business so there is no better time for the Foster Grandparent Program to be present,” said Castellanos, noting that it has a new volunteer orientation on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of the month.
How to get involved
Those interested in participating in the Foster Grandparents Program must be 55 or older undergo a process similar to applying for a job.
“They submit an application, and go through an interview, submit to a criminal background and National Sex Offender Public Website check and depending on where they are stationed the might need to have TB (tuberculosis) screens and drug screens and meet additional requirements,” said Veronica Castellanos, manager of the AmeriCorps Seniors Program, which includes the program.
Volunteers are also required to participate in 20 hours of orientation to learn, among other things, the rules and regulations of where they’ll be placed and technical device usage training.
Those interest in volunteering, should contact Jacqueline Dawson at or 219-794-1829, ext. 2462. They also can fill out an application at www.nwi-ca.com/volunteer-opportunities/#grandparent
Schools or student programs interested in joining the program should contact Castellanos at or 219-794-1829, ext. 2261.
By Jane Ammeson Times Correspondent