Two years ago, while struggling with the death of her son, Lynn Carroll saw an advertisement in the newspaper asking for volunteers to serve as foster grandparents in Hamilton County Schools.
The retired educator thought it was perfect timing and a perfect fit. Now, two years later, Carroll spends her days with 60 third-grade students at DuPont Elementary School, working one-on-one with students to improve their literacy, math and social skills.
"Every day I leave exhausted," Carroll said. "But I leave with such immense joy. ... I'm very grateful for this opportunity."
Carroll is one of 96 members of Chattanooga's Foster Grandparent Program, which belongs to the national group of service programs, SeniorCorps, that community members and elected officials came together to recognize Tuesday morning at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on National Service Recognition Day.
"I'm glad to be a part of the Chattanooga family that shows we care so much," said Lurone Jennings, administrator for the city's Department of Youth and Family Development. "I'm very grateful for those of you who give your time and talent to work with our youth and say, 'We're with you, we know you can make it, we know you can overcome your challenges.'"
Chattanooga has several SeniorCorps and AmeriCorps programs, which are funded and managed through either Volunteer Tennessee or the Corporation for National and Community Service. Though programs vary, AmeriCorps members are considered service volunteers who complete a set number of community service hours, receive small stipends, and often work in high-needs areas of the community.
AmeriCorps was created during President Bill Clinton's administration in 1993, but many programs have existed in some capacity for much longer. In March of this year, President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which allotted funds to the corporation but calls for its elimination in 2019, leaving many wondering what gaps would be left to be filled if AmeriCorps programs are ended.
Locally, the largest numbers of members belong to the Foster Grandparent Program, which has served Chattanooga for 37 years, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Foster grandparents work at 29 sites, including Head Start early childhood centers, Youth and Family Development centers and Hamilton County schools.
RSVP members also serve in a variety of capacities.
Grace Ashford and her RSVP group, based out of New Monumental Baptist Church in Brainerd, serve fruits and vegetable snacks to students at Woodmore Elementary School twice a week.
"I am looking at the future leaders of our city, our state, the United States, maybe even the world," Ashford said. "And through the grace of God, they will get there."
Ashford and the other senior members, who are all at least 55 years old, also deliver meals and spend time with members of the community, usually their peers, who might be home-bound and isolated.
AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps members provide a wide variety of services, including tutoring and delivering meals — like Carroll and Ashford's work — building trails and training youth trail crews through the Southeast Conservation Corps, and training new teachers through the Public Education Fund's Project Inspire teacher residency.
"Our community is fortified when a foster grandparent shows up every day to work with students ... when retired volunteers deliver a hot meal to homebound citizens, through the environmental stewardship of Southeastern Conservation Corps," Foster Grandparent Program Director Angela Hayes said.