"Mrs. Walker will be very missed around here. The Foster Grandparents are like a family, and we are losing one of the most important people." said SaDonna Thompson, who was named the new director of the Foster Grandparents Program.
Thompson has been the acting director since late March and is only the second director the program's 33-year history.
Before taking on the director position, Thompson worked at the Brown Shoe factory in Charleston and later, after attending college, worked for eight years as a Title 1 reading assistant at Southeast Elementary. It was at there where she first came in contact with Foster Grandparents.
"When I was at Southeast, all the Foster Grandparents said I should apply for the new director position," said Thompson, "I finally did and here I am."
Thompson is enthusiastic about the new position and has a few slight changes in mind for the program.
"We are going to start having in-service meetings once a month," explained Thompson. "Here we will be showing the grandparents new and different types of learning skills to better help the children."
Besides this change, Thompson assured business will run as usual at the program. She said that due to the past success of the program, not much change is needed.
The kindergarten and elementary school officials have been very pleased with the help the program has offered over the past years.
"One reason we like them so much is because they serve as really good role models for the kids, especially to those that don't have grandparents," said Jenny Hobeck, principal of the Sikeston kindergarten. "Over the years, they have become a part of the classroom."
The kids are not the only ones benefiting from the program. The participants, themselves, enjoy their work.
"The kids get attached to them and they get attached to the kids." said Thompson. "These kids provide a reason for some of our grandparents to get up in the morning."
Three Foster Grandparents, Mary Johnson, Edna Lou Hart and Lillas Heacox, have been getting up in the morning to volunteer for over 22 years. Walker, of course, topped them all with her 33 years of service.
The program itself consists of 50 volunteers over the age of 60 with monetary needs. The Foster Grandparents work four hours a day, five days a week. A small stipend is given to them although the work is classified as volunteer work.
The Foster Grandparents visit the kindergartens and local elementary schools in Sikeston, Poplar Bluff and East Prairie, where they provide assistance to the teachers and students. They utilize one-on-one and small group assistance for students who are struggling in their studies, especially with reading and math.
The program is now looking to hire six or seven more Foster Grandparents and Thompson hopes this time more men will apply for the positions. "The kids respond very positively to men," said Thompson, "and to date we only have one man in our program."
Anyone desiring more information can contact the program at 471-8676.