Seniors find purpose as foster grandparents helping local school children

Children or kids tile
Children or kids tile

Sharon Gass will never forget the moment she heard the words, "Look Granny, I can read this all by myself!"

But the little girl was not her familial granddaughter, she was a local student in the local Foster Grandparent Program, which has connected senior citizens across Chattanooga with students in need of one-on-one assistance in the classroom for 36 years.

A foster grandparent is someone who can be a mentor, tutor or caregiver to a child in need of extra attention. The main goal for the program is to make sure the children are able to reach their full potential and be successful - both in and out of the classroom.

Gass has been a foster grandparent for three years. She said one of her favorite things about being involved with the program is seeing the children full of happiness when they succeed.

"To me, it's very rewarding. The look on their faces when they reach their goal makes it all worth it," she said.

Reminiscing about her successful previous "grandchildren," Gass most vividly remembers the young girl who called her "Granny" and was excited to learn, but struggled when it came to reading.

"I [wasn't] going to quit, and I [wasn't] going to let her quit," Gass said.

After spending time with the student and encouraging her to keep going, Gass was surprised by the limited progress the child had made. Then one day, as the classroom teacher handed out directions to an activity, Gass watched the child realize she could read the instructions on her own.

"That was the best part of my day. She was so happy, and that's what we do it for," Gass said of why she continues to work with the program.

There are 90 volunteers currently involved, but the program is actively looking for more to reach more students in need.

"We are looking for more volunteers who have a heart for helping children," said Susan Kroll, field supervisor for the program.

Not only has the program helped the children, it has also brought a lot of joy to the seniors' lives, Kroll added.

Volunteers must be at least 55 years old, but no previous experience is required. Training is offered to help ease volunteers into the classroom environment.

All volunteers are always supervised by the classroom teacher. Volunteers are also given a tax-free stipend for their work.

"The children's love and joy keeps me connected to life and gives me a purpose," Gass said. "... We work together with the schools and the teachers to assure that children who are having a difficult time can achieve success."

For more information about the Foster Grandparent Program, call 643-6418.

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