Phyllice Jackson compares children to “buds on a tree, and I love to see them bloom.”
Jackson, who prefers to be called PJ, is a volunteer with YWCA Tri-County Area’s Foster Grandparents Program. Foster Grandparents Program encourages adult volunteers 55 and older to stay active by helping children and youth in their communities. Volunteers are placed in classrooms in elementary school and Head Start programs to provide the one-on-one mentoring and academic support that helps children bloom academically and developmentally.
Jackson works with third and fourth graders at Franklin Elementary School in Pottstown, helping them with reading and literacy. She and 44 older adults currently volunteering as Foster Grandparents provide targeted support and extra encouragement that makes a difference in how a child can learn.
“The extra time they get with their Foster Grandparent helps them build confidence in their own abilities,” Jackson said. “When the children realize that there’s more than one way to learn, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
Susan Udinsky, who mentors second graders at Hancock Elementary School in Norristown, said children in the classroom come to her for help with reading, writing, spelling, and math. She helps children summarize a story they’ve read, and helps them work through the school’s new phonics curriculum. She echoed Jackson’s observation that the additional help the children receive from their Foster Grandparent helps them develop a belief in their ability and capacity to learn.
“I have one child who reads nicely when we’re one-on-one, but in a group he’s withdrawn,” Udinsky said. “Literacy skills, learning to read and write, is a real need for so many children. With this one child, we’re working on building his confidence in his reading skills, so that he can learn even more in a group setting.”
Younger children benefit from Foster Grandparents as well. Miranda Pellegrin reinforces literacy concepts with preschool-age children at Head Start in Norristown. She helps them learn the alphabet, helps them master holding a pencil, helps them learn numbers.
“I want them to learn all they can so they’re ready for kindergarten,” Pellegrin said.
Jackson said the Foster Grandparents also help support the teachers – first by helping to reinforce lessons learned with the whole class, and also by acting as another set of eyes and ears in the classroom.
“Teachers are busy and have a full classroom,” she said. “I can call the teacher’s attention to a problem or a need if I see it.”
Udinsky said her incentive to volunteering as a Foster Grandparent keeps her brain and body active. Helping the children “gives me a purpose in life,” and she feels rewarded when she sees understanding in a child’s eyes.
“I was working with a girl on math concepts, counting coins and telling time,” she said. “She was not getting it, and all of a sudden she looked at me and said “Oh!”, just like that.”
Current Foster Grandparent sites include elementary and child care centers throughout Montgomery County, including the Pottstown, Norristown, and Upper Merion school districts, and Head Start classrooms throughout Montgomery County.
As the Foster Grandparents Program grows in Montgomery County, volunteers will provide one-on-one support to children and youth in child care centers, elementary, middle, and high schools, and residential youth centers.
Volunteers in the Foster Grandparents Program receive a stipend if income-eligible. Foster grandparents also receive continuous support, training, and meals during their volunteer shifts, and transportation if needed. Foster Grandparents Program is a program of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.
YWCA Tri-County Area currently is in the process of placing volunteers throughout Montgomery County. The next orientation for incoming volunteers will be the week of February 10. For information about volunteer sites or the upcoming orientation, contact Program Director Ashley Faison at 610-323-1888, or firstname.lastname@example.org