A Shoulder to Lean On: Celebrating the St. Vincent Foster Grandparent Program

As you turn the radio on during your morning commute to work, Frank Sinatra’s voice is the first thing you hear. A familiar tune of seemingly perfect pitch creates a flashback to Sinatra’s glory days. You recognize the song as “To Love a Child,” yet do not quite understand the backstory behind it. Frank’s mention in the song of an older generation helping the younger is a theme that has developed into much more in the collaboration between healthcare systems and educational facilities.

For nearly 50 years, St. Vincent Healthcare has created meaningful relationships with local school districts. Most notably, its Foster Grandparent Program has provided assistance to students struggling academically or emotionally. The Foster Grandparent Program is a cousin to Americorp and was developed as a response to the war on poverty. Under the Johnson Administration, Sergeant Robert Shriver teamed with Dr. Bernard Nash, who explored the idea of a complimenting students struggling in schools with elders that had a wealth of knowledge and experience. He then created a program to target poverty by pairing elders living on limited income with students who were struggling in poverty-ridden school districts.

Some teachers need extra assistance, as they may have large classes or have many students struggling. Based on classroom assessments, teachers can identify students who may be having a difficult time learning. The Foster Grandparents provide a helpful resource during the most important developmental stage of their lives.

“The process to become a Foster Grandparent is quite intensive, as we want to ensure the highest level of security for the students,” said Barbara Brady, Director of the St. Vincent Foster Grandparent Program. “Each volunteer goes through a series of background and criminal checks, as well as a health screening.”

The St. Vincent Healthcare Foster Grandparent Program has a wide age-range of volunteers, ranging from 55 to 92. The volunteers work wholeheartedly to ensure quality assistance for the students. Some of these volunteers have been actively involved for over 20 years. Through their work during the 2018-2019 school year, they successfully helped 624 students, where 78-percent showed academic improvement through classroom assessments.

“We can see the impact that the Foster Grandparents make on the students academically,” said Brady. “But what means the most to me is knowing that our volunteers were the shoulders to lean on when they were needed.”

The Foster Grandparent Program is a Senior Corps Program funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service. The program is grant funded, with matching support from St. Vincent Healthcare. The St. Vincent Healthcare Foster Grandparent Program serves six counties and three reservations.

If you would like more information about the St. Vincent Foster Grandparent Program, contact Barb Brady at barbara.brady@sclhealth.org.

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