Foster Grandparents Help Kids Stay Active, Engaged, and Healthy During Pandemic
For thirty years, Greg Brown taught reading and art to teenagers and young adults. Now retired, Brown has transferred those skills to volunteering with 3-5 year olds.
“I’ve always really been in awe of preschool and first/second grade teachers because you actually have to put something in their heads,” Brown said. “By the time I got them (in high school/college), the hard work was done. My admiration for the teachers…knows no bounds.”
Brown is a volunteer with the Foster Grandparent Program, made possible through a collaboration between Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties and AmeriCorps Seniors. Foster Grandparents are placed in classrooms at Community Action Head Start classrooms in Lincoln, where they focus on supporting children’s school readiness.
“I think it’s so important as we age to keep engaged, to embrace new challenges and keep the mind active,” Brown said. “During this whole pandemic mess, I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this.”
When COVID-19 protocols were put into place in March 2020, the program had to reevaluate how to best serve the children while keeping volunteers safe. By the fall, Foster Grandparents were back in the classroom virtually, via tablets and Zoom. Volunteers are able to have conversations with children, read books together, and even “play” on the playground equipment – something that wasn’t possible when in person.
Also not possible during in-person service was the ability to switch up his menu and promote healthy eating from home. When Brown was in the classroom, he usually ate what the kids were having. Now that he’s virtual, Brown can showcase his own favorite healthy options because “they love seeing what (he’s) eating.”
“Remotely, when they’re eating, I try to eat too,” said Brown. “I try to always have a piece of fruit. They noticed that I was eating bananas all the time and they called me out on it, so I went to the store and got some oranges and grapes too.”
Grandparents have had to get creative with how they interact with the children, and Brown returned to a long-forgotten passion by drawing pictures for kids that appeal to something they like and mailing it to the teacher to present in class.
“When I was in high school I wanted to major in art, and then I decided I didn’t have any talent,” Brown said. “And that kind of went by the wayside for many, many decades. This has got me started doing it again…so I’m really grateful for that. It’s like it’s unlocked a whole new part of my personality or talent.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a Foster Grandpa for Brown is getting to watch the kids learn new concepts and “how that by extension starts to feed into their self-esteem, their sense of identity and self, and the sense that they have that they’re being seen as individuals.”
While the Foster Grandparent Program provides responsibilities to older adults looking to remain active, Brown says the impact you make is just as valuable.
“It’s so beyond just having something to do,” Brown said. “It’s beyond ‘making a difference.’ It is making a difference but one can actually see the difference that’s being made. It’s not theoretical – it’s real.”
To become a Foster Grandparent, volunteers must be at least 55 years old and able to serve 20 hours or more a week. Those interested in the Foster Grandparent Program should contact Sam Bates at 402-875-9320 or visit CommunityActionAtWork.org.