2018-02-22 / Front Page

Foster Grandparents Find Their Place

By Andy Long

Foster Grandparent Cheryl Pelletier with Stephen. (Photo by Susan Duca) Foster Grandparent Cheryl Pelletier with Stephen. (Photo by Susan Duca) Can an older person have a grandparent’s love and devotion for an elementary school age child, even if that child isn’t the son or daughter of their children? Can children find a grandparent’s caring attention in an older person, even if that older person isn’t the mother or father of one of their parents?

Diane Palmer, Program Coordinator of the East Bay Foster Grand Parent Program (FGP), which is sponsored by the East Bay Community Action Program, believes that the answer to both questions is an emphatic yes, and she is putting that belief into action at several Aquidneck Island elementary schools.

The purpose of the Foster Grandparent Program, funded by the Corporation of National and Community Service, is to provide income-eligible individuals 55 years of age the opportunity to volunteer and make a difference in local elementary schools, where they can supplement the work of the teachers and other staff by providing adult support for the children, as well as loving attention.

Foster Grandparent Peggy Henderson with Mohammed. 
(Photo by Susan Ducca) Foster Grandparent Peggy Henderson with Mohammed. (Photo by Susan Ducca) Cheryl Pelletier is a retired school psychologist and a Foster Grandparent who works with kindergarteners at Pell Elementary. Her role is simply to be in the classroom, and when any child needs individual attention, Pelletier is there to be a loving presence in a space where the other adult must watch over the entire group.

When asked about her involvement with the children, Pelletier says, “It’s personally rewarding,” but she goes on to say how much she in fact loves being there, especially when the children excitedly greet her with, “Miss Cheryl’s here, Miss Cheryl’s here!”

Another Foster Grandparent at Pell, Peggy Henderson, has also found her place, “Helping out kids any way we can,” she says, which in her case means volunteering in the school library which can be visited by as many as 100 students throughout the day. Like Pelletier, Henderson has set duties and is there to pitch in when needed, often helping kids pick out books or helping those who need a little more personal attention to improve their reading skills.

Volunteers must commit to fifteen hours each week, and may volunteer as many as forty. There is a small stipend and a transportation allowance, insurance coverage while on duty, and a free lunch in the school cafeteria.

Potential Foster Grandparents are required to successfully pass a number of background checks to ensure the children’s safety, and a set of screening interviews with Palmer. But she says the main point of sitting down with anyone who wants to serve as a Foster Grandparent is to get a feel for how he or she might best fit with a school.

Both Pelletier and Henderson point out the advantage of not having to be the disciplinarian and enjoy the children’s delight at seeing them.

The grateful adult beneficiary of the Foster Grandparents’ labors of love is Pell’s Principal, Traci Westman. “You help support children,” she says of them, and “It provides a lot of nurturing,” she says of the program.

Westman also emphasizes that the program builds relationships between the school and the community.

“I’d advise you to try it,” Henderson says, “At least give it a try. You might find you enjoy it.”

If you have the time and the love to give, contact Diane Palmer at East Bay Community Action Program’s Office of Volunteer Services at 401-435-7876.

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