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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Foster grandparents take time to help young students

Sunday, April 18, 2004

"Grandmother" Allene Taylor helps first grader Kacey Johnson with her school work.
MOREHOUSE -- Every week day from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Allene Taylor can be found sitting at her designated desk at the front of Elaine Old's first grade classroom at Morehouse Elementary.

It's there where Taylor, 88, checks papers, helps students with their school work and often times lends them an ear in their time of need.

"Students love her (Taylor) . . . and probably overuse her," smiled Old. "She probably gives them a bit of extra TLC. Some kids might have a bad morning before they come to school, and Grandmother gives them that extra attention they need."

Taylor assures her role as a foster grandparent in Old's class, where she's been for over 10 years, is definitely an important and enjoyable one.

"I'm not a sitting person," admitted Taylor. "I like to be active and to help these kids. I enjoy it."

Taylor checks papers, but not tests, she quickly points out. She straightens the math, reading and art centers for Old and occasionally she'll bring treats for the students during holidays.

"Grandmother is very helpful and not only with the children. She organizes the room and gets the centers and seat work ready in the mornings," Old said about Taylor.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, which begins today and lasts through Saturday, all foster grandparents in Sikeston will be recognized at a special breakfast Tuesday at Bo's Bar-B-Q and Grill in Sikeston.

Morehouse Elementary Principal Jeff Williams said the "Grandmothers," as they're called at Morehouse, assist classroom teachers and provide one-on-one instruction to select students. And they are very much a part of the staff at Morehouse Elementary, he assured.

"The children really look forward to seeing them. And when they're gone for a day or so, they ask: 'Where's Grandmother?'" Williams noted.

Foster grandparents can be found at Sikeston R-6 Kindergarten Center, Sikeston R-6 elementary schools and Sikeston Head Start. Foster grandparents are also in East Prairie and Poplar Bluff. They work 20 hours per week and earn $2.65 per hour. Much of the program is funded through the United Way of Sikeston.

"It's rewarding because you don't do it for the money, but for the difference we make in the kids' lives," said Velva Hankins, 71. "They're like our own kids . . . like our family."

And one of the biggest pluses of volunteering at the schools is hearing all of the funny things that come out of the students' mouths, Hankins and Taylor noted.

"Kids say the funniest things," Hankins laughed. "Once a kindergartner, or I think he was a kindergartner, wanted to buy an extra milk for a nickel and I told him, 'Honey, I don't think you have enough.' He said, 'That's OK, Grandmother. You can give me the change."

And on Grandmother Hankins' 70th birthday, one of the students asked her: "Grandmother, how old are you?" Hankins told him her age, and the child replied: "Well, I guess you're almost dead."

Hankins laughed as she remembered that birthday, and immediately lit up as she thought of another story.

"One of the other Grandmothers told me about a small kid who was in the hallway and had two larger kids on each side of him. She was trying to get through and all of a sudden the small boy put his arms out in front of the other kids and said, "Wait a minute fellas, let the old ladies pass."

Hankins and Taylor don't mind the old age cracks, they said. They know kids are being kids.

Perhaps nothing feels better than when the Grandmothers have helped a struggling student in a certain subject and then score a 100 percent on the next test.

"It makes you feel good," Taylor said. "With this job, you can laugh sometimes and cry sometimes."

To be a foster grandparent, volunteers must be 60 years of age or older and have an annual income of no more than $11,640/single or $15,615/couple. Each foster grandparent works 20 hours per week and earns a small stipend of $2.65/hour.

Volunteers are always need for the Foster Grandparent Program, and Hankins recommends the program to anyone, she said. It's great and anybody would love it, she said. And if they don't like it, they can quit, she pointed out.

But for Taylor, who attended school at Morehouse and worked in the lunchroom for years before becoming a Grandmother at the school, the position is one that touches close to the heart.

"It's something to get up for in the mornings," Taylor said. "It's good to have a place to go every day."

For more information on the Foster Grandparent Program, contact director Jolene Walker at (573) 471-8676.