HANNIBAL — Like many programs, the Foster Grandparent Program at Douglass Community Services had to adapt this year due to COVID-19.

Foster Grandparents is a federal program that Douglass Community Services oversees in Northeast Missouri. Douglass receives a federal grant that has to have a match of local community dollars. Dollars from the United Way of the Mark Twain Area’s Be a Hero Campaign will assist to be part of that match of funds to ensure the program can continue in our local community.

“Overall, everyone’s life has improved because we’ve connected,” said Stacey Nicholas, the Director of Community Outreach Initiatives at Douglass Community Services who oversees the Foster Grandparent Program. “On so many different levels it builds a stronger community.”

Throughout the nation, Foster Grandparents work one-on-one as classroom aids, mentors helping young people learn work skills, and providing homework support for struggling students. To be part of the Foster Grandparent program, volunteers must be at least 50 years old. While participating in the program volunteers do receive a small non-taxable per hour stipend, receive mileage dollars, and are given a meal stipend.

In Northeast Missouri, Foster Grandparents volunteer at Head Start and Early Head Start Centers in Lewis, Marion, Pike and Ralls counties. At these centers, Foster Grandparents develop meaningful relationships with young people and frequently are able to work one-on-one with students who are struggling to advance their skills.

“The Foster Grandparents are useful, active, and a part of their community. In many of our communities the school is vital,” Nicholas said.

This year, COVID-19 restrictions in Head Start centers and schools have prohibited Foster Grandparents from entering classrooms. However, that has not stopped their work. Instead of being in the classroom, many Foster Grandparents have recorded themselves reading books for their students to enjoy. Though that is better than nothing, volunteers, students and teachers will benefit when it is safe for Foster Grandparents to be back in the classroom.

“For the kids it means there is someone there who cares if they are having a good day, who is going to help them,” Nicholas said. “For teachers it is nice to have another adult in the classroom who can focus solely on a child who needs extra attention.”

Forrest Gossett, editor of the Salt River Journal and chairman of the United Way of the Mark Twain Area 2020-21 Be a Hero campaign, said the Foster Grandparent program benefits both the adult and the child.

“I have volunteered at Head Start centers, have witnessed the important relationships older adults have with children, and how they encourage them to learn,” Gossett said. “The fact of the matter, is the earlier we reach children the better they will perform later in school.”

Individuals who are interested in volunteering through the Foster Grandparent Program can visit http://douglassonline.org or call Douglass Community Services at 573-221-3892. To financially benefit this program and the many others that benefit from the United Way Campaign contributions may be sent to United Way at PO Box 81 Hannibal, MO 63401, text ‘UWMTA’ to 26989 for a prompt to give, or give online at http://unitedwaymta.org.

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