In January, RSVP + North Dakota became the new sponsor for the Foster Grandparent program for western North Dakota. The nationally funded program recruits people 55 and older to become mentors to children in the classroom.
"The program is designed to help schools by having that volunteer around to have one-on-one time with kids. It's an opportunity to let the kids read in a non-threatening environment," Miriam Smette, director of RSVP + North Central North Dakota, said.
"Sometimes, the term 'grandparent' is deceptive. People think they need to have had children or grandchildren to be in the program. Really, it's just about being a mentor or a friend in the classroom," she added.
Miriam Smette, RSVP + director for North Central North Dakota, studies Foster Grandparent Program materials on a computer monitor.
RSVP + will now be handling the grant for the already existing program, Smette explained, which has 56 foster grandparents in classrooms across the western part of the state. Grandparents volunteer in elementary school classrooms and Head Start programs.
Barb Martin, a volunteer at Anamoose Elementary, said she heard about the program through a friend and was eager to try it. She has since been volunteering for a year and a half.
"For me, I just like being around the kids, because it's nice to hear them say, 'Hi Grandma Barb!' I really enjoy it," Martin said.
Martin helps by listening to kids read and helping them with math problems at times. She also enjoys developing relationships with the kids and helping them with other problems.
For many foster grandparents, being a part of a child's life is what makes the program rewarding.
"It's been fun to visit with the volunteers. They like the kids and teachers. One volunteer told me that she calls it her love job, because she feels like she has made a difference with the kids. Sometimes the difference is educationally based, or sometimes it's just the kids coming out of their shell and telling a caring adult what's going on in their lives," Smette said.
"I think people should go and try it, I think they'll like it. You can always quit if you don't like it, but I don't see myself quitting. The kids need it, they need that little extra love and hug once in awhile, and I think the volunteers do, too," Martin said.
To be in the program, adults must be 55 and over and meet income guidelines. As a part of the program, they receive a small stipend. The program is flexible, working with the volunteers to set up a schedule that works for them, and offers a few vacation and sick leave days each year.
Volunteers can also choose to participate year-round, participating in summer school or library summer programs. As a new sponsoring agency of the program, RSVP + hopes to continue its success and even add to it.
"As a sponsor, I hope that we're able to take something that's been really special, and enhance it. It's a great program, and we're hoping to get the word out and get more people to come in and commit to going into the schools," Smette said.