INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Grandparents can make a huge impact in the lives of children. That's why an area program is making the connection in metro schools with the "Foster Grandparent Program."
"I retired and my husband died at the same time, so it was hard for me," said Tillie Fares, a foster grandparent at Santa Fe Trails Elementary in Independence. "I really enjoy coming to school, and I really miss it, sometimes when we're off for Christmas vacation, I'm ready to come back to work."
Grandma Tillie, as she's known, started as a foster grandparent 10 years ago in the same school and classroom.
"I help them and it helps the day go by pretty fast," said Tillie. "They come in the morning and give us hugs and everything else. I love my kids. I love my teacher. I just love it."
Tillie is one of 86 volunteers in the Reconciliation Services Foster Grandparent Program.
"We serve at over 27 sites through the KCMO metro," Foster Grandparents Program Coordinator of Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties Summer Griffith said. "In 2017, our foster grandparents served well over 89,000 hours and we added over $1.1 million to our communities."
The Senior Corps program is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service and connects low-income adults, all 55 and older, with children that could use a helping hand.
"For those kids that need a little extra help in terms of academic engagement or social and emotional control, they have a 1-on-1 tutor or mentor that's able to come and work with them throughout the whole year," said Griffith. "Kids at some of our sites have experienced real trauma or violence, or just coming from needs, maybe having a language need or developmental need, and having a loving safe grandparent at their school really makes the difference in their education."
Barbara Taylor, another foster grandparent in Independence, said love is something she is happy to give.
"Some of our kids need a lot of love and that I can give," said Barbara. "As long as I'm able to get around, I'm going to continue to do it. These kids are a blessing to me."
While the grandparents help the kids with spelling and reading, the kids return the favor in a big way.
"It gives them a whole new purpose in life," said Griffith. "It combats loneliness, which we know is one of the primary elements of older adults, and it keeps them physically and mentally active, so it's just a win-win program."
Foster grandparents are given a pre-tax stipend and reimbursement for travel expenses to their volunteer assignments. They must pass a background check and physical exam and must meet federal income guidelines. Most will work between 15 and 40 hours each week.
"To see the difference when they start in August, to their graduation in May, it makes you feel like you are doing something, giving something," said Barbara.