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Program Connects Ferndale Students with Classroom Grandmas

Program Connects Ferndale Students with Classroom Grandmas

(Lara Mossa, March 30, 2021)

FERNDALE – After retiring from a career at Macy’s, Deborah Grant looked for something to do. She wanted to help. She wanted to work with kids. That’s why she joined the Foster Grandparent Program at Ferndale Schools.

“I needed something to do, and I love children,” said Grant, 71, of Royal Oak. “Sometimes it’s challenging, but, for the most part, it’s enjoyable.”

Grant has been a foster grandparent at Ferndale Lower Elementary School for five years. A division of AmeriCorps Seniors, the program matches elderly people with young students at schools across the country. Based on the teacher’s needs, the volunteers provide academic and emotional support and help the children with activities such as reading, math, writing their name, identifying colors and many other skills.

“I do quite a bit with the children,” said Grant, who works with students in the First Fives classroom. “I like seeing kids in the hallway.”

Like many programs these days, the parameters of the Foster Grandparent project have changed due to the Coronavirus. Typically, the volunteers worked in the school 20 hours a week – from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. They participate in training and receive a small stipend for their service. Now, the grandparents connect virtually with the students from a computer lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Locally, the Foster Grandparent Program is available at nine sites in Oak Park, Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Southfield, Ferndale and Bloomfield Hills Schools.

“Who doesn’t love Grandma?” said Diana Keefe, Principal at Ferndale Lower Elementary School. “There are so many valuable lessons to be learned across the generations. Our kids provide the grandmas joy, and the grandmas provide our school kids joy.”

Right now, there are four women who work with the Ferndale school – all in kindergarten classes. Recently, the volunteers sent the students Valentine’s Day cards and are prepping for a virtual read aloud story time. Besides academics, the participants help children with social issues such as getting along with others or making friends, Keefe said, adding that Ferndale has had the program more than 30 years.

In Oakland County, the Foster Grandparent Program has been around 47 years. Along with federal funding through AmeriCorps Seniors, the project receives state funding from the Aging & Adult Services Agency and is sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. Volunteers have to be at least 55 years old, explained Carol Wall, Foster Grandparent Program Manager for Oakland County.  There are currently 36 volunteers, and, while, traditionally, the roles have been filled by women, there is one foster grandpa, she said.

Besides supporting the kids, the project provides purpose for senior citizens.

“It gives them something to look forward to each and every day,” Wall said. “The difference that they make each and every day in the lives of their children is remarkable.”

Although the program is not accepting new volunteers right now, interested applicants can contact Wall at her email address wallc@ccsem.org. The computer labs are in Southfield and Auburn Hills.

“I just love the program,” Wall added. “My volunteers have the biggest hearts. They’re so compassionate, caring.”

More info:

AmeriCorps Senior Corps

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