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Foster Grandparent Program at risk

By Pat Scherf, Catholic Charities Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program area supervisor, Osakis, MN

The Foster Grandparent Program, Senior Companion Program, and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) are federally funded volunteer programs for lower income seniors. All three comprise Senior Corps. Senior Corps and other National Service Volunteer Programs like AmeriCorps' Math Corps, Reading Corps, and VISTA fall under the direction of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). A proposal to eliminate the CNCS and all of its programs is included in the new administration's federal budget proposal. Do not misunderstand. They are not just proposing a cut in the CNCS budget, rather total elimination. All programs would disappear.

These CNCS programs undeniably offer an immediate return on investment. Our tax dollars work for us through these programs and our investment comes straight back to us — to our children, loved ones, classrooms and communities.

For example, through the Foster Grandparent Program, your federal tax dollars give lower income older adults a little money in their pockets, $2.65 per hour, to serve 15 hours up to 40 hours per week at their sites/schools under the guidance of teachers and site staff. In your area, they assist students, pre-K through sixth grade, who struggle with learning and/or need additional social and emotional support and encouragement.

That $2.65 is a very small, yet necessary reimbursement in exchange for the reliable, experienced support for academic, social and emotional tutoring and mentoring that comes from caring and devoted adults.

In turn, that same $2.65 gets spent by the Foster Grandparents on their basic needs like rent, food, utilities and more. The services these older adults provide, as well as the dollars they are reimbursed, are nothing but benefits that come directly back into our communities.

Would you work for 15 to 20 to more than 30 hours a week to make $2.65 an hour? Foster Grandparents are very special people!

The CNCS programs work and unquestionably offer opportunities for people to continue being productive citizens within our nation. Without the federal budget reimbursements, many senior volunteers serving in the Senior Corps Programs, and people in the other CNCS programs across the U.S., could not afford the costs associated with volunteering. Their service/work within their communities and their country would have to end.

And each of their "stories" would drastically change for the worse.

The Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program covers 16 counties and is sponsored by Catholic Charities of St. Cloud. It has existed since 1965, and we currently have approximately 180 senior volunteers. Currently, closer to home: Sauk Centre schools have 12 Foster Grandparents assisting in classrooms. They served 6,642 last school year. Osakis schools currently use four of our FGP volunteers to benefit their students and staff. They served 3,138 hours last school year.

Most of you have never heard of the Corporation for National and Community Service or Senior Corps. Many never knew that those school grandmas and grandpas are part of a much bigger picture, the Foster Grandparent Program. Many don't know just how necessary and valuable these volunteers are within school districts and other nonprofit agencies.

Ask your children/grandchildren if they have a classroom grandma or grandpa helping them at school. Discuss this with your teacher friends and school board members. Does your mayor, along with your city council members, understand the CNCS programs and the value of having them in your community?

Consider contacting your legislators to ask that they support the CNCS. Consider asking them to vote against elimination. The urgency is real. Please pass the word.