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Fostering relationships

Foster grandparent program helps students in need

On any given day in schools throughout Morgan, Lawrence and Cullman counties, senior citizens spend time mentoring students. Participants in the Foster Grandparents program through Community Action Partnership of North Alabama go into the schools and work with students one on one.

Chantal Collier, program director, said it is something that benefits both the students and seniors involved.

“I like to present it as a dual-benefit program,” she explained. “Most of my volunteers, if they weren’t doing this program, would be sitting at home by themselves. They wouldn’t be getting that interaction, and they wouldn’t be moving around, so they would be sedentary. A lot of them are grandparents, but their grandchildren do not live in the area, so they get to love on those babies at school like they are their own.

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“That’s the same thing for the kids. Sometimes situations at home are not good, and that grandparent in the classroom might be the only happy face or someone that is loving for them. They like to call them Grandma. They develop bonds with them.”

The program has about 65 volunteers ages 55 and older. Collier said the program allows volunteers the chance to make a difference in the community while also giving them the opportunity to get out of the house. Many also earn a $2.25 an hour stipend that does not interfere with their retirement or other benefits.

“I think it is important because we are giving these volunteers the ability to go out into the community where they live and support in areas that there is not a lot of help all the time,” Collier said. “With the stipend they get, they are able to give back to their community. A lot of my volunteers like to get their classrooms little gifts because a lot of times they don’t even get Christmas gifts.”

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The volunteers help in schools as well as in after-school programs and at the Boys and Girls Club.

“They are mentoring one on one with students that are lacking proficiency in reading or math. They might have language barriers, or some work with students with special needs,” Collier said.

Through the volunteer efforts, Collier said many students are able to improve their reading or math proficiencies. She said one of her favorite parts of being the director of the program is hearing success stories from some of the partnering teachers.

“I track their growth over the school year. Last year we were at a 96 percent increase of the students we were working with showing an increase in reading or math,” Collier said.

The program is federally funded through the Senior Corps program and receives help from the Morgan County United Way. Collier said she is always looking to add volunteers or their

sponsors. Interested parties can contact Collier by calling 256-355-7843 or by emailing chantal.collier@capna.org.