Foster Grandparents Volunteers Touch the Lives of Many Disadvantaged Children
At age 85, Gladys Tomlin goes to school nearly every day.
She is a Foster Grandparent volunteer mentor and tutor in an elementary school helping academically-challenged children improve their reading and writing, as well as gain the confidence to succeed in school and beyond.
After working much of her life in the sugarcane fields of the Glades region, she is assigned to a low-performing school as part of the national Foster Grandparent Program, which the Area Agency on Aging of Palm Beach and Treasure Coast runs in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee counties.
“It’s my best job. I’m here to help. God put me here to help these children,” said Gladys, who is also working toward her GED (General Education Diploma), the equivalence of a high school degree. “I didn’t grow up with a full education so I want these children to be educated and have opportunities to do great things.”
Gladys was among the 150 other “grandparents” in the local program honored during a December appreciation luncheon at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott. The program is open to low-income people ages 55 years and older to provide supportive services to at-risk and special needs children. Participants get an hourly stipend, transportation allowance, daily hot meals, and other benefits.
Program coordinators praised the part-time volunteers for changing the lives of the students across the region.
“Our children need grandparents,” Maureen Thompson, a coordinator at Lincoln Elementary in Riviera Beach, told the participants. “You have the life experiences that our parents and teachers don’t have. We need your knowledge. Our schools need it. Our children need it.”
Children involved in the Foster Grandparent Program are known to achieve improved physical, mental, emotional and social development through interaction with the senior volunteers.
Locally, during the 2016-17 school year, grandparents assigned to the program in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties have helped students make solid gains, said Sara Humphries, project director of the Foster Grandparent Program at Area Agency on Aging. They logged 112,750 hours in working with more than 500 at-risk children in pre-kindergarten through third grade. Their time resulted in an 83% improvement in literacy and math for children in grades kindergarten through third grade, and an 89% improvement in social emotional engagement.
Also speaking at the luncheon, Humphries told the participants: “You come from many different backgrounds. You have many different life experiences. And yet, you all have one thing in common – your willingness to give time to help others. You may never know the profound effect that you have made on a child’s life. A kind word, a gentle touch, or a listening ear can mean so much.”
Gladys Tomlin got involved in the program in 1998 because of her passion to help children in need. She’s in school most weeks Monday through Friday from 8 am to 2:30 pm. She can’t imagine doing anything else at her age.
“I love the work. I’ll do it until I can’t,” she said.
Annie Wilson, 82, is another participant, who has been involved since 2000. She, too, lived much of her life in the Glades and was able to send all five of her children to college. She’s known many teachers who she works with since the time they were kids coming to her house to play with her own children.
Through the program, Annie has seen marked improvement in the children she’s tutored.
“There was one child in particular. He was barely reading or writing and by the end of the school year we got him to read and do math. He’s doing so much better now,” she said.
“I see him now. He smiles. He’s happy. I just love him,” she added.
Annie is grateful for the Foster Grandparents Program, particularly for giving her the opportunity to get out of the house, get involved and transform the lives of the children she works with.
“I encourage everyone who can to participate in this tremendous program,” she said.