The first thing you notice when you walk into Community Action’s K Street Head Start Center’s “Elephant Classroom” are the tiny tables and chairs that are just the perfect height for the toddlers who sit on them every day, eager to learn.
Surrounding the tiny tables are even tinier cubbies, each with a picture of the child it belongs to. Laminated balloons with each child’s birthday float above a play kitchen in the corner of the classroom. Colorful posters with letters and numbers line the walls.
And sitting at a table in the middle of the room is Grandma Joyce, lifting a bright-eyed toddler in pigtails with a shy smile onto her lap.
When Grandma Joyce first moved to Lincoln from Chicago, she found she had little to fill her days. Her neighbor suggested she check out Community Action’s Foster Grandparent Program. After learning that the program would allow her to provide one-on-one mentoring to assist children with developing the skills they need to be ready for kindergarten, Joyce knew it would be a perfect fit for her.
“I love everything about this program,” said Joyce. “I love watching the children learn and grow. I love seeing them use the social skills they seem to gain each day. It is such a rewarding gift to be able to help them get ready for school.”
The Foster Grandparent Program is made possible through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The grant allows Community Action to place seniors in classrooms within the agency’s two early childhood education centers in Lincoln. Foster Grandparents partner with Head Start classroom teachers to complete lesson plans, facilitate small group activities and mealtime discussions, and guide children through their daily routines.
Joyce has had wonderful memories within the program. She recalled a particular time when the children were missing their favorite teacher while she was on vacation in Florida. Joyce and other classroom staff came up with an adventure for the children to make them feel like they were visiting her. They lined up the children’s buggies in order so they resembled cars on a train. Children were given tickets to ride this imaginary train, which took them on a journey around the center. The children waved at everyone they saw until they reached their final destination, a space complete with paper palm trees, a sandbox and other fixtures to resemble the Sunshine State. Joyce recalled the children being so happy, and it is these kinds of experiences that make Joyce question if she will ever retire.
To be eligible to serve as a Foster Grandparent, individuals must be 55 or older, have income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and be able to serve 20 hours or more each week. Just a few benefits of serving within the program include a stipend, professional development opportunities and mileage reimbursement. However, the most important benefit of being a Foster Grandparent is the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.
If you are interested in the Foster Grandparent Program, contact Georgann Roth, Foster Grandparent Program director with Community Action, at 402-875-9320. To learn more about Community Action, visit www.communityactionatwork.org.