Vibrant community cannot happen in isolation. However, for many of our senior citizens, isolation, lack of transportation, and limited social and service opportunities prevents them from participating in and contributing to community life.
A recent University of California, San Francisco study showed that nearly 20 percent of senior citizens live alone and 40 percent experience persistent loneliness. Research published in Health Psychology also shows that seniors who are isolated are at higher risks for illness, cognitive decline, stroke, and obesity. It even states that loneliness is as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
And yet, we know that our older community members have so much to offer. At Reconciliation Services we are engaging our older community members and encouraging them to draw from their many years of knowledge, skills and experience and volunteer with at risk young people in area schools, early childhood centers, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Family Court.
“The RS Foster Grandparents Program pours into qualified low-income older adults who have so much to give back. We enable them to go out and mentor kids with exceptional needs and help make a positive change in our community,” said Summer Griffith, RS Foster Grandparents Program Director. “We do it through our monthly inservices, training and recognition events, community partnerships through school districts, early childhood care centers, and other community organizations.”
The RS Foster Grandparents Program of Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties provides a small pre-tax supplemental stipend, and equips them to provide support, kindness and encouragement for children with critical social, emotional and educational needs. The program is part of the larger Senior Corps initiative, which engages American adults age 55 and older in meaningful volunteer opportunities.
More than 85 RS Foster Grandparents are in schools, early childhood centers, hospitals, and family court from North Kansas City to the Hickman Mills School District. They volunteer throughout Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties in over 30 locations. They live and serve in our community and they give their best to kids in our community day after day.
“The kids our Foster Grandparents work with often have language deficiencies, are emotionally traumatized, some have mental and physical disabilities, some may be in the foster care system, and all are in desperate need of the love and stability a mentoring senior adult can offer,” Griffith said. “RS Foster Grandparents model love, acceptance, hard work, the value of education, service and leadership, and they offer the one-on-one support that helps these kids grow emotionally and cognitively. We talk about not just letting them know college is an option, but asking them ‘Where are you going to college?’”
By partnering with teachers, administrators and site supervisors, we use evidence-based programming to measure outcomes. We are looking to make a real and sustainable impact in the lives of these young people.
In the early childhood centers, pre-K programs and daycare settings, Foster Grandparent volunteers focus on developing the emotional health of the children. Foster Grandparents are paired with children who need individual attention and work on school readiness, anger management, friendship and relationship skills, coping skills, and other critical developmental building blocks that are necessary for success.
For Kindergartners through high schoolers, RS Foster Grandparents focus on improving educational engagement, specifically working towards more class participation, assignment completion, fewer absences, less need for discipline, and adopting an overall positive attitude towards learning.
The RS Foster Grandparents volunteering at Children’s Mercy Hospital and at the Family Court offer comfort and emotional support for children in the midst of difficult circumstances. Grandma Lucille has been volunteering at the Family Court for over 20 years and at 93 years old, she still gets down on the floor to listen to and play with the kids.
This important involvement in the lives of young people and the sense of purpose in the community is improving the lives of our senior volunteers. According to the Quality of Life Index measurement, more than 80 percent of Foster Grandparent volunteers reported a greater sense of well-being because of volunteering.
The effect of this one-on-one care and attention also has a profound effect on our youth. A report by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership showed that at-risk youth who met regularly with a mentor were 55 percent more likely to enroll in college; 78 percent more likely to volunteer their own time; 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions; 52 percent less likely to skip school; and had fewer recurring behavior problems.
“As a first generation college graduate myself, I know first hand the importance of older adults and mentors in my life,” Griffith said. “They played a vital role in my life and helped keep me on the right path during tough times. I had older adults who believed in me when I didn’t yet believe in myself.”
Healthier and happier seniors and youth make for healthier and happier communities.
Are you interested in learning more about how to become a Foster Grandparent or do you want to see how you can help support seniors who are volunteering in our community? Contact Summer Griffith, RS Foster Grandparents Program Director
Click here for more information about the requirements and benefits of the RS Foster Grandparents Program. And click on their names to hear from some of our RS Foster Grandparents: Grandpa Jerry, Grandma Juanita, and Grandma Sims.