TOOELE, Utah (ABC4) — While Utah students are prepping for the new school year, many around the state are finding help with Foster Grandparents — a program that pairs students with volunteers 55+ to mentor them in their academic achievement.
This assistance involves a variety of tutoring services, from reading alongside young students to helping them with their homework.
One school where you can see this program in action is Scholar Academy in Tooele.
“I was looking for something to expand relationships with people,” said Glenda Stone, who volunteers at the school.
Stone joined the Foster Grandparents program last March after seeing an ad in the local newspaper — and has enjoyed every minute of it.
“You get to know them, you get to know about their families, and they get to know you. You kind of become a foster grandparent,” she said.
The program has been implemented at Scholar Academy for around a year. Students and staff said they loved having Stone as a part of their school.
“She read with me to help me get the words right,” shared one second-grade student who Glenda worked with. “I like grandma Glenda.”
“When she walks into the school, the whole office just kind of smiled and she’s just very positive,” added Vice Principal Jeff Hall.
Amber Einerson, who coordinates the program in Tooele County, said it helps students in a variety of ways and that it gives seniors the opportunity to help students with exceptional needs.
“What we’re specifically looking for in stations are students that are either behind grade level in reading, writing, math, or we’re looking for those that are really struggling socially and emotionally,” she shared.
She also comments, “You’ll see some of these students have chronic absenteeism. They have anxiety issues, and they’re oftentimes the students that are just emotionally struggling in class,” Einerson said. “It’s just trying to build that relationship to get them to want to be at school and be happy when they’re there.”
Hall shared that he’s seen it make a big impact on both the students and volunteers.
“The kids are so happy after they meet, but the grandparents are also so happy, just the interaction with these kids and seeing them grow,” Hall said.
Patti Cook volunteered as a Foster Grandparent at Grantsville Elementary for around six years. She now volunteers in another AmeriCorps program called Senior Companions where she assists other seniors who may need an extra helping hand.
“This is where we put a senior volunteer in with another senior citizen to help them maintain their independence longer. They provide basic companionship, and they also help with respite care if needed,” Einerson states.
Cook said she was recently assigned to be a Senior Companion to a man in his late 60s who has Parkinson’s disease with no family in the area. Over time, she said he has started opening up to her and the two enjoy their time together.
She says she appreciates both programs for the chance to make a difference.
“Every day I’m grateful. It gives me purpose and gives me a reason to get out of bed,” she said. ”It gives me pride in who I am that I can contribute still to society, even though I’m in my seventies, that I can be a large asset to these people.”
UServeUtah manages these programs in several parts of the state, including Box Elder, Cache, and Carbon County.
Einerson said in Tooele County the senior programs are expecting a lot of growth and need double the amount of volunteer hours. She noted they’re hoping to welcome more volunteers like Patti and Glenda, who know how to brighten others’ days.
For more information on the Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs, including how to apply as a volunteer, visit their website here.