Foster grandparents help, bond with students
SUNBURY, Pa. (AP) — A simple statement of adoration to foster grandparent Rose Digin still fills the 67-year-old woman’s heart with joy.
She remembers walking hand in hand down a hallway a few years ago with a Shikellamy elementary student, who looked up and her and said, “I love you, grandma.” It’s that moment that makes the Foster Grandparent Program worth it for her.
“I’m retired and it gives me something to do,” Digin, of Sunbury, said at Grace S. Beck Elementary School on Arch Street. “I always enjoyed working with children. They look up to you. If you’re not there, they miss you: ‘Where are you grandma?”
Digin and other foster grandparents in the program — many of whom have their own grandchildren outside the school — assist teachers in student education. They work with the students one on one with their homework, school work and basic life skills.
“I’m in pre-kindergarten,” Digin said. “I help with meals, tie their shoes, color with them, put puzzles together. Whatever a grandmother would normally do, that’s what you do for these kids. They really appreciate the one-on-ones. You come in and be a grandparent. It just comes natural.”
Digin is in her third year as a foster grandparent. She is retired from the Milton Area School District where she worked in the food service industry.
Mary Hoke, 69, of Sunbury, has been involved in the program for 10 years. She is a retired factory worker who sewed clothing and dresses in Elizabethville. Molly Decker, 77, of Sunbury, for six years. She had a 40-year career working both at Geisinger and Sunbury Community Hospital in various departments.
“I like working with the kids, you learn a lot from them,” Hoke said. “If their homework isn’t done right, you go over it and explain what they did wrong.”
Decker said the students keep her active.
“They keep me on my toes, keep my brain cells working,” she said. “You learn something new every day from them. You never know what they’re going to do.”
All three foster grandparents love the “good mornings” they get from their students at the start of the day or the “I miss yous” when they are absent.
The Foster Grandparent Program of Central Pennsylvania is found in Shikellamy, Selinsgrove Area, Midd-West, Mifflinburg Area, Milton Area, Mount Carmel Area, Lewisburg Area, Shamokin Area and Juniata County school districts, Northumberland County Head Start Program, Snyder-Union-Mifflin Child Development, the Sunbury Chapter of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA Daycare, Children’s Discovery Center in Selinsgrove, Concerned Citizens for Childcare in Sunbury and Work Foundations in Sunbury.
Right now, the 50-year-old program has 87 volunteer grandparents, according to Marilyn Botdorf, program director in Selinsgrove.
“It’s a wonderful program for people to give back to society and work with children who might need extra help,” she said.
The program is funded through the federal Corporation for National and Community Service and sponsored locally by the Union-Snyder Area Agency on Aging.
Volunteers must be 55 years of age or older. In order to be eligible for a non-taxable stipend, each volunteer must fall within the income guidelines. The program provides transportation and lunch, and each foster grandparent is assigned a site, teacher and children. The volunteers must also pass a background check.
Beck Elementary Principal Susan Giberson and the elementary teachers are grateful for the grandparents’ help.
“It gives students help who need it without singling them out,” Gilberson said. “We want more. Every class could use them.”
Second grade teacher Nicole Schenewerk and pre-k teacher Karten Light said the students form relationships with their foster grandparents.
“It’s very loving and nurturing,” Schenewerk said. “They might not always get that in their home, so getting that extra time with older adults makes them feel special.