Foster Grandparents: Volunteering Can Enrich Your Life

African American man and young boy, wearing face masks, touching elbows, greeting

“When I retired, I knew I wanted to stay busy, but I didn’t want to go look for another job. When I heard about the Foster Grandparent Volunteer Program, which would allow me to mentor kids in a nonprofit setting, I thought ‘This sounds perfect for me!’”

Mary Floyd

Mary Floyd, 77, received a 2021 Inspire Positive Aging Intergenerational Impact Award from Sound Generations, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports people on their aging journey through community connections and accessible services, due to her service as a foster grandparent.

Mary Floyd, age 77, is a King County resident who, for the past several years, has been volunteering as part of the Foster Grandparent Program, a national service AmeriCorps Seniors program administered by Homage in Lynnwood. The Foster Grandparent Program pairs up King County or Snohomish County older adults aged 55 or older who are low-income ($2,147 per month or less) to volunteer eight hours a week as mentors with children in nonprofit settings. The foster grandparents receive a tax-free stipend of $3 per hour for their volunteer work.

The Foster Grandparent community reach is broad. Volunteers serve in a variety of settings such as schools, day care centers, and community centers. In the school settings, teachers identify children who could use a little extra help and the volunteers provide that extra one-on-one support. Volunteers assist children with a variety of tasks ranging from academic support to emotional and behavioral guidance and encouragement.

Prior to COVID-19, the volunteers served in person at the partnering locations. Once the pandemic started, the volunteers shifted. Some continued to serve in a virtual capacity. Mary was one of the volunteers who was able to make the shift.

When the pandemic caused schools to operate remotely, Mary took it upon herself to learn the online teaching platforms, navigate technology challenges, and coordinate with teachers to see how she could help them and the students. She serves the children in a Kent classroom remotely with good humor and enthusiasm.

Lori Armitage, teacher at Kent Early Learning Center, noted, “Mary is such a gift to our class. Her encouragement and love of the children is so wonderful!”

Mary adds, “Foster Grandparent volunteers play such an important role in kids’ lives. We give children the personal attention they love, guide a child during a critical time in their life under the direction of a teacher, help children grow and develop, and serve as a source of positive encouragement and stability for the students. The kids get so much out of it, but so do I! It’s so rewarding to see you have made a positive impact in a child’s life.”

foster grandparent video still

Click on the image above to watch a short video about the significant impact foster grandparents have on the children and volunteers.

Heading into fall 2021, Adelheid Arbogast, Homage Foster Grandparent Program Director, noted, “We hope to be able to have our volunteers back in-person in the classrooms and day care settings. We are hearing that there is a strong possibility that volunteers will be able to start serving again in-person; however, we also anticipate that there might be some continued opportunities for volunteers to continue with some virtual volunteering. We’re grateful for our volunteers who have been so flexible during these extraordinary times and look forward to getting them back to serving more children and having our volunteers make a positive difference in their lives.”

The benefits of the program for the teachers, children, and volunteers are varied and monumental. Foster Grandparents often report that, because of the program, they have a new purpose in life and a sense of accomplishment in being able to give back to the children they serve. Teachers often report that foster grandparents provide students with the extra one-on-one academic help they need, as well as the support to succeed academically and socially.

When asked what she would tell others considering becoming a foster grandparent, Mary Floyd said, “You can make a difference in a child’s life and in yours, too. It’s a wonderful way to enrich your life.”

If you are interested in becoming a Foster Grandparent Program volunteer or would be interested in having a Foster Grandparent Program volunteer serve in your classroom or at your organization in King or Snohomish County, call the program at 425-514-3188. For more information, visit the Homage Foster Grandparent Program website.

Contributor Kate Gavigan is Foster Grandparent Program outreach specialist at Homage, a nonprofit organization in Snohomish County that, among many programs and services, coordinates foster grandparent volunteers in Snohomish and King Counties.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.