Spotlighting foster grandparents at Fairmount Park

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay, Inc. manages volunteers to meet the challenges of the community with services that offer mentoring, tutoring and companionship through customized training and support.

Their Foster Grandparent program is one such program. It brings older persons together with children who will benefit from developing a warm, caring relationship with a senior citizen.

The Weekly Challenger sat down with four of the six foster grandparents at Fairmount Park Elementary School to talk about their role in the classroom.

Eighty-one-year-old Louise Fletcher has volunteered at Fairmount Park since 2010. Helping out in the kindergarten class, she describes her job as being a teacher’s assistant.

“The main thing we do is help the teachers with the children,” she said.

Each volunteer is assigned a class and make their own schedules, and Fletcher vows to be present as long as the children are. Working five days a week from 8-2 p.m., she said she and the other grandparents want to help her students succeed.

“We want to help build Fairmount Park up with the help of the parents, encourage one another and build each other up,” she Fletcher, who has six children, five grandchildren and eight great grandchildren of her own.

Alice Ingram has been a foster grandparent for some five years. Starting off at Woodlawn Elementary School, she’s been at Fairmount Park for four years.

Ingram worked for decades at the Florida Department of Children and Families. After retiring in 1993, she worked at Happy Workers Learning Center until a health scare. Once she recovered, being a foster grandparent was a way to continue working with children but not having the responsibility of running a classroom.

“This keeps me active,” she said. “I am happy to give back to the community by helping children get a good education and become future leaders of tomorrow.”

At 76, Ingram has seven children, 26 grandchildren and 35 great grandchildren.

Many children have no older adults in their lives. Through the Foster Grandparent Program, these young people enjoy the benefits of developing a warm, caring relationship with a senior citizen, such as Autra Hall.

“It’s good to see the children excel. From not knowing anything to knowing about 75 sight words, it’s great to see their progress,” said 73-year-old Hall.

Retired from Head Start, Hall needed something to do with her spare time. She started volunteering at Fairmount Park last November, and is excited to see the children learn.

“I’m there to assist; I love it,” said Hall, who has five children, 14 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Seventy-four-year-old Thelma Fikes, who like the others, assists in a kindergarten class. She once was a teacher’s aide in a preschool classroom before working for Boley Centers for 20 years.

A foster grandparent for seven months, Fikes said she encourages the children and works one on one with the ones that need more help.

“This program is great. I see the kids growing. You can really see the difference,” she said.

Each of these foster grandparents help the children with their alphabet, work with them on sight words, how to print and help with manipulatives in mathematics. A typical foster grandparent is someone who enjoys being around children and wants to help them be their best.

“I encourage anyone if they don’t have anything else to do in retirement to be a foster grandparent,” stated Fikes who is a mother of two, grandmother of four and great grandmother of 12.

Go to seniorsinservice.org to learn how to become a foster grandparent.

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