Foster Grandparent program needs volunteers

It’s looking for people 55 and older to volunteer at sites such as schools or youth organizations.

EVERETT — A program that connects older adults with children and teens who need extra support has returned to Snohomish and King counties after a two-year hiatus.

But there’s a shortage of volunteers here.

“We just haven’t gotten anybody from Everett,” said Adelheid Arbogast, director of the Foster Grandparent program for Homage Senior Services.

She’s looking for people 55 and older to volunteer at sites such as schools or youth organizations.

Homage took over the grant for the federally funded program in October. Foster Grandparents had been run for years locally by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, but the organization stopped sponsoring the program in 2016, at the time citing rising expenses.

There are about 20 foster grandparents in King County, Arbogast said. In Snohomish County, there are two, both taking a break for the summer.

She’s hoping to reach more retirees looking for a way to keep busy and give back. Low-income seniors can receive a small stipend. It doesn’t count toward the income limit for other benefits, such as health care, Arbogast said. They must commit to at least 15 hours a week, complete 20 hours of training and pass a background check.

Though rallying volunteers has been hard, finding places that need them is easy. Volunteer tasks could include helping keep an eye on preschool children or teaching homeless teens a craft. If there’s something a volunteer is interested in, Arbogast can usually find them a spot.

Vicky Garner, 67, is a foster grandparent in Seattle. She helps students in a reading program at Washington Middle School. She leads literacy circles where they read and talk about books. Earlier this week, she read “I am Malala” with a middle school girl. It led to conversations about how history tends to repeat itself, and how people can create change.

Garner lives maybe three-quarters of a mile from the school, she said. She started volunteering about 10 years ago.

“That was my thing,” she said. “I am African American and I just read a lot in papers and articles about how young African American males were not performing at standard (in school), and I thought, you know, why not go and help out?”

Her grandchildren were growing up and didn’t need her to help them with school anymore, she said. She spent a lot of time at home, where she gets around in a wheelchair. She’d started to feel sorry for herself, she said.

Her mood brightened when she began volunteering. At first, she was nervous to work with kids. One of the first students she worked with was a young girl who struggled to pay attention long enough to read. Years later, Garner ran into that former student at a concert. The girl had grown into a young woman who was tutoring in music and attending University of Washington Bothell.

“Even the hardest kids that you think, ‘Oh they don’t want to listen to me.’ Actually, they do,” she said “They’re not as hard as you think they are, sometimes.”

She knows that story firsthand. Garner’s family moved from Texas to Washington when she was young. She had a rough couple of years in middle school. Her grades slumped. But her eighth grade teacher saw something in her, and helped her get back on track.

“All I needed was that encouragement from her and I blossomed,” Garner said. “That’s what I always try to be. I want the kids to know that you might not think it now, but I see your potential. I see your greatness. I see you becoming someone. I see you.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

To volunteer as a Foster Grandparent, go to www.homage.org or call Adelheid Arbogast at 425-514-3188.

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