Foster Grandparent Program makes its mark

Foster Grandparent Program

Courtesy Corporation for National & Community Service

It’s been almost three decades since I left the field of journalism, where I worked as a reporter for newspapers and two wire services. Most of the stories I covered in my 12 years in the field were somewhat routine and I forgot about them as soon as the newspaper hit the newsstand the next day. But a few will forever remain etched in my mind.

One of the most memorable was on my first job at the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. I was assigned to write a feature story about the Foster Grandparent Program at Lubbock State School.  This program was started during John F. Kennedy’s presidency – not surprising, since he did so much to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

Seniors volunteer

The federally backed program, which is still in operation, recruits senior volunteers to work with school children and those with special needs.  Most of the seniors volunteer their time, but those with financial need are paid a stipend.  Such was the case with the senior lady I interviewed that day in the mid-1970s.

I don’t remember her name, but I do recall she looked rather grandmotherly. And she was completely devoted to the young girl she was assigned to.  They met me on a veranda outside one of the state school buildings one spring afternoon. And the foster grandmother shared their story with me.

Her teen-aged companion (I don’t remember her name, either) could not speak and was in a wheelchair. She could not control her arms or legs, all of which jerked in spasms. But she smiled and seemed to revel in her time with her “grandmother.”

This foster grandmother was open about the fact that she got paid to be there; it was one of her only sources of income and she needed the money. But she made it equally clear that she adored her young friend and loved spending time with her. I got the feeling that even if there weren’t any monetary compensation, she would be at Lubbock State School every week anyway.

We all have gifts to share

This lady discovered what I found out years later when I would spend time with my Uncle Melrose – that people with disabilities have much to offer. We just have to take the time to be with them and open ourselves up to receiving the gifts they have.

Wolf Wolfensberger, the psychologist and academic who devoted his life to advocating for and researching people with disabilities, said these individuals have a number of strengths to share:

  • A natural spontaneity
  • Generosity and warmth
  • Honesty and a trusting nature
  • The ability to engender gentleness, patience and tolerance from others

I certainly found all these traits in Uncle Melrose. I’m betting that my foster grandmother of so long ago found the same things in her young friend.

[Note: See previous post on the Foster Grandparent Program.]