Foster Grandparent Program Creates Reciprocity Between Generations

Jennifer Holland’s sixth grade class at Maple Lake Elementary never thought they would get the attention of the President of the United States. After cuts to federal funding threatened the continuation of the Foster Grandparent Program in their school, that’s exactly what happened.
“The kids decided they couldn’t be without Grandpa Don,” Holland said, who fosters civic duty in her students “They took the bull by the horns and did what they could.”
The determined kids took what they learned and penned 51 letters to President Obama, each one explaining what their “Grandparents” mean to them. "Grandpa Don is there for me. When I needed to talk, Grandpa Don listens to me,” one boy wrote.
“It’s great to see kids actively involved in what matters to them,” said Kate Neuhaus, program manager for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS). Neuhaus recently presented students in Holland’s class with a recognition letter from the White House. “Seeing pride on their faces when they realized they made a difference was so rewarding,” she remembers. “We are proud to have partnerships with such involved schools that promote engagement at every age.”
The LSS Foster Grandparent Program also promotes healthy attitudes towards aging adults as students are exposed to volunteers who are healthy and active after retirement. “There is reciprocity between generations,” Neuhaus explained. “Our older volunteers provide emotional and academic support while the children offer older volunteers joy and purpose.”

When Donald Danford saw a newspaper ad calling for foster grandparents, he knew visiting elementary schools would be a great way for him and his wife to stay involved in their community.
“We like to help others, especially young people,” Danford said, who volunteers with his wife, “Grandma” Betty. “It’s important for us to be active with youth in our family and at our church. This is an extension of that.”
The sixth graders eagerly await “Grandpa” Don’s next visit to the classroom.
“It becomes a competition to see who gets to read with him first,” Holland said. “Don gladly gives each of them the one-to-one time that they need to grow socially and academically.”
“Blending generations helps us stay in touch and see the changing world differently,” Danford said. The intergenerational benefits grant students new perspectives, too. Recently, Danford served as guest speaker on Veterans Day. “Older adults are an important part of our country’s rich history,” Holland said. “They have so many wonderful stories to share.”
Holland believes Danford’s story is just beginning. “Our hope is that more kids get to experience the impact of foster grandparents like Don,” she said, adding that despite proposed budget cuts from sequestration, the funds are being restored for 2015. “Thankfully, the Foster Grandparent program is slated to continue in the Maple Lake School district and around Minnesota. We couldn’t ask for a better role model for our students than Don.”
Make an impact in child’s life this school year.

-Kate Neuhaus