Recruiting foster grandparents in McDowell poses challenge
Elkhorn Head Start in McDowell County hosts Foster Grandparent.
December 13, 2012 ·
About 17 percent of the students in McDowell County have special needs. More than fifty years after the Foster Grandparent program began, McDowell community leaders say it’s needed now more than ever.
“It’s just a joy to see children and you go to Kroger and Wal-Mart," 70-year-old Claudia Via said, "they come up to you knowing it’s you."
"One day a little boy liked to knock his mother down said, 'that’s Ms Via,' and another young man said, 'that’s my granny,' and they said, 'that’s not your granny. Yes, that’s my school granny.' He let them know that I was their school granny and it makes you feel good when you meet those kids and they remember you.”
It’s a regular day at Elkhorn Head Start Center in McDowell county, as Ms. Via helps four and five-year-old children line up for lunch at the end of play time.
“We just provide love that’s what we are all about,” Via said. “The love that the children need and getting to know the child better and the families better and doing what we can to help out to make it easier because these are low income families.”
As a parent, Via says she volunteered at the very first Head Start in the region in 1965. When she reached the age of 55, she decided to get involved as a Foster Grandparent.
“We seen the need for the agency to have foster grandparents to help with special needs children,” she said. “The special needs children are low income and there is a need just for love and understanding and listening to them talk and just being there for the little things that the teachers may not be able to provide for them.”
The program allows seniors age 55 or older into head starts, day cares, and public schools to spend one-on-one time with children with special needs.
Marcia Mullins is the director of the Foster Grandparent program in McDowell and six other counties. With about 26 foster grandparents, McDowell County hosts the most in the region.
“It’s kind of a two fold process,” Mullins explains. “It keeps the seniors active in the communities therefor they’re living longer and it also helps the children with special needs.”
Mullins says the region needs more seniors to join the program.
“There are children out there that could use more foster grandparents," Mullins said, "particularly those who has physical disabilities, or hearing impaired or things like that.”
But Mullins says recruitment in Southern West Virginia is a challenge, particularly McDowell County.
“The county is so widespread," she said, "and you may have to cross two mountains to get to a school and that may be challenging for a senior that does not have transportation.”
The program is administered by the Council of Southern Mountains. Executive Director Randall Johnson says in the past five years, McDowell students involved in the program have been socially active. It’s reported that the students have gone on to play football in college, go into the military, become nursing assistants and more.
“Had it not been for those foster grandparents,” Johnson said, “I know those kids would have been just languishing from hither to there.”
“Without that support and those special needs many of our children are lost, especially the special needs children. We try our best at this agency to provide a level playing field for as many kids as we can but the barriers and needs are so great we’re just scratching the surface.”
Although ‘Foster Grandparents’ are paid to spend time with these children, for Via it means so much more.
“It has been very rewarding because it’s something for me to do,” she said. “I have an eye disease and I’m considered sort of disabled too but it hasn’t stopped me from providing what I can for the children.”