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MEOC's Foster Grandparent Program benefits seniors, students

Submitted by Paula Culbertson • Nov 4, 2019 at 10:45 AM

BIG STONE GAP – Ninety-four-year-old Dorothy Bishop says the secret to staying active isn’t really a secret. “You just keep going,” maintains Bishop.

One way Bishop accomplishes that is through her participation in Mountain Empire Older Citizens’ Foster Grandparent Program, one of three in Virginia. The federally funded program places eligible senior citizens who are at least age 55 in preschool and elementary classrooms. Under a teacher’s direction, they provide one-on-one attention to special or exceptional needs children. MEOC’s service area includes Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton.

Bishop, a Gate City resident who serves at Weber City Head Start, is currently the oldest foster grandparent in MEOC’s program. She and others in the Foster Grandparent Program devote 15 to 40 hours per week at their sites. They also attend monthly in-service training.

Volunteers receive an hourly stipend, which is non-taxable, non-reportable income that doesn’t affect eligibility for other programs and services, including Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, rental assistance, food stamps and federal fuel assistance. They also earn annual leave time, holiday pay, transportation and lots of love.

Foster grandparents tutor and mentor children to improve classroom and life skills. For example, they may read with children or help them identify letters, numbers and colors. They also provide love, encouragement and companionship.

MEOC’s program currently includes about 20 participating sites, and program director Brandi Barnette is recruiting seniors for several other locations. Schools currently seeking volunteers include St. Charles Head Start, Big Stone Gap Kids Central, Coeburn Primary, Duffield Primary, Weber City Elementary, Yuma Elementary and Nickelsville Elementary.

Besides the age requirement, the volunteers’ income must fall within guidelines. For a one-person household, the monthly income requirement is less than $2,081; for a two-person household, it is less than $2,818. Participants also undergo background checks.

Barnette said the program is a win-win opportunity for everyone involved — foster grandparents, classroom teachers and students.

“It is an honor to be directing a program that impacts our communities in such a significant way. Our foster grandparents are genuinely loved by the children they serve, the school principals and staff and by one another,” she said.

“My hope is to recruit more volunteers to impact more students for our community and to be a part of a wonderful, life-changing experience,” added Barnette.

Bishop, a mother of four and fifth-generation grandmother possessing decades of experience with children, said she enjoys the Foster Grandparent Program immensely. “I love being involved. It helps keep me active and allows me to do something positive too,” Bishop said.

To learn more about the Foster Grandparent Program in MEOC’s service area, contact Barnette at (276) 523-4202, ext. 416, or email [email protected]

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