Foster Grandparents giving to students
Mandan News, editor
“Hi grandpa,” children chorus as Alvin Greff walks into the schoolroom. Having been a volunteer in the Foster Grandparent program for the last three years, Greff has helped make a change in countless young lives.
The Foster Grandparent program began nearly half a century ago, on Aug. 28, 1965. Intended to entice individuals 55 or older into community service, the program quickly revealed that it was having a great impact.
Enabling these seniors to both interact, as well as support young children, the program provided “grandparents” to individuals in the community. Serving as mentors, tutors and role models, volunteers like Greff have spent their time sharing skills and lessons that can be fundamental to a child’s life.
Greff grew up in the Glen Ullin area. It wasn’t until he eventually moved several states away that he first learned about the Foster Grandparent program.
Having relocated to Utah, and later becoming disabled, Greff found himself with extra time on his hands.
“A teacher asked me what I did during the day, and I told them not much,” Greff said. “They suggested that I check into the Foster Grandparent program, and shortly after that I started helping second graders.”
However, wanting to return back home, to be near family and friends, as well as make new friends, Greff found himself in Mandan.
Wanting to continue with the Foster Grandparent program, Greff searched for where he could volunteer. However, it was eventually his sister-in-law that mentioned RSVP+, the organization in North Dakota that oversees the program.
It took nearly no time for Greff to get into contact with RSVP+, and then to be signed up to be a foster grandparent in Mandan.
Last year, Greff had the pleasure of being placed in Mary Stark School. Seeing a need for the extra attention, the staff was happy to welcome him.
“The teachers, and the staff have been very supportive,” Greff said. “There is so much honor and respect from the teachers as they appreciate that you spend the one-on-one time with the students.”
The students appear to love the program as well.
“Whenever I walk into the school, or even a place like Walmart, I have kids coming up to me and calling me grandpa,” Greff said. “They like to introduce me to their parents, ‘ma ma, this is grandpa.’”
Greff says that the appreciation from the students comes largely from him giving them confidence. He does so by getting to meet the kids, and then getting to know them on a personal basis.
It is more than just getting to know the children that Greff does though. As the program entails, he acts like a tutor, helping them learn, as well as feel better about themselves.
By getting the opportunity to spend the one-on-one time with each child, Greff is able to personalize his approach. However, one of the aspects he enjoys the most is reading with the children.
“Last year, we read six of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books. This was outside of class, by kids who were not readers,” Greff said. “Then during lunch time or recess, we would just sit down and discuss what we read.”
Not all of the tutoring is as easy though. There are times that Greff doesn’t have an answer, but that doesn’t stop him. Instead, he gets to learn right alongside the students.
“Some of those kids are smarter than me,” Greff said. “They tell me, ‘come on grandpa, you must know the answer.’ And I respond, ‘no no, you have to show me.’”
However, it isn’t always a matter of not knowing the answers that causes Greff to get the children to work out the problem. Often, it is just one additional manner in which to get the student to figure out the explanation on their own, by having to work through it and explain what they are doing.
The schools and children aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program though. Greff says that he gets a lot out of his time volunteering as well.
“The biggest reward is just knowing that you’re giving these children confidence; knowing that they feel better and smarter,” Greff said. “Seeing the students better themselves keeps me involved in the program.”
This change in the children’s attitudes is one of the reasons why Greff says he never hears anything bad about the program.
“The schools really want us there,” Greff said.
Some seniors do have a few reservations about signing up to volunteer though. For some, there is a worry that it will be too time consuming. But Greff says that is not really a problem.
“It’s not like a regular full-time job,” Greff said. “Instead, we are volunteers.”
There is a 15-hour per week minimum that the Foster Grandparents are expected to make, but Greff says that’s not much.
“It’s only three hours a day,” Greff said. “You can also go in on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday and get it all in or what works best for you. It is really flexible.”
For those who want to spend more time, 40 hours a week is possible, but it really depends on the volunteer. The teachers do ask for a schedule, so they know when each grandparent is coming in, but the volunteers can also call in on days that they can’t make it in.
Some of the children also have some minor problems with the program. One main issue is calling the volunteers grandpa or grandma. While most enjoy that sort of bonding, a few children do oppose the idea. However, Greff says that it’s not necessary to be called their grandparent.
“Some kids ask me why they have to call me grandpa, and I tell them that they don’t,” Greff said. “I tell them that they can call me by my name, Alvin, or whatever they want. One kid told me he was going to call me uncle, so I’m also uncle Alvin. Others have even called me Alvin the chipmunk, and ask where Simon and Theodore are. Its all in good fun.”
Before being able to volunteer though, each potential foster grandparent does have to undergo a background check, as well as training, before they are allowed to be a part of the program.
That training continues throughout the course of being a volunteer. Each month, the foster grandparents are expected to undergo mandatory training, where a variety of topics are discussed.
“The sessions are very educational,” Greff said. “Professionals come in, and give us tips, as well as reminders.”
Volunteers are also provided a non-taxable stipend (which doesn’t effect any other assistance that the individual may receive), travel reimbursement or payment for transit if needed, as well as the possibility for insurance, vacation, paid sick leave and time off.
For more information on the Foster Grandparent program, call 701-258-5436, email Wendy.Allan@ndsu
.edu, or go to www.RSVPND.com.