Grandma Judy read a story to a group of 4 and 5 year olds, as she previously did on the Day Nursery of Abilene’s Vine Street site.
This time, however, she was in one room and the young people in another.
Grandma Judy, 82, set up her iPad to read “Giraffes Can’t Dance”. She held the book open for the children to see and read the words. Just like she would in person.
She saw them on her screen, and they saw her, gathered around their screen a few rooms below.
The retired daycare director for the St. James UMC program was practicing.
“So Gerald was special after all,” she said. Gerald is a giraffe.
“He found some music he could dance to.”
And when she was done, Grandma Judy said to the kids, “You were good listeners. Goodbye !
“Goodbye!” they responded.
Then she walked to the classroom to surprise the children. They rushed towards her just inside the door, not having seen her for over a year due to the pandemic.
“Why were you on the computer? He was asked.
“I played with the computer so I could read from home or anywhere,” said Grandma Judy.
Of course, being there in person was best. He was asked to reread the story in person.
And she did.
How it all works
Judy Stevens is part of the Foster Grandparent program which puts senior volunteers to “work” as role models, mentors and friends for children. It is a program of Texas Health and Human Services.
The program is intended for men and women aged 55 and over. Valeta Gilchrest, 87, and Charles Anderson, 85, attended a rally of around 20 volunteers on Wednesday morning.
It was their first gathering since March 2020. Senior residents of Abilene have been especially cautious during COVID-19.
But adding iPads to their lives will keep them connected in the future. For example, if a volunteer is having surgery and can’t get out, he or she can still volunteer with an iPad.
“I wish we had them last year,” said Debra Young, the volunteer coordinator for the Foster Grandparents program.
She has 47 registrants and is allowed to add a dozen more.
Funding for this program is an AmeriCorps grant. Other cities in Texas have local sponsors, but Abilene is one of eight state-supervised programs. The program, which covers all 50 states and four countries, dates back to 1965. The local program was started in 1973, out of what was then called the Abilene State School.
He would be more fully integrated into the community in the following years.
Funding provided tablets and the means to teach volunteers how to use them.
Wednesday’s meeting was the introduction. Find the HHS icon on the screen and touch. And you are there.
Volunteers can read to children remotely or ask them about their level of knowledge of numbers and ABCs.
Remote connection is particularly beneficial in reaching young people who are in a juvenile justice facility. For example, Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood. Young people aged 10 to 18 are accommodated there.
It is a chance for a “grandparent” to speak with these children and to supervise them. Young people may be more willing to talk to them than others, Young said.
The program works with a number of Abilene agencies, including daycare, the YMCA, and Boys & Girls Club. It also connects with the ISDs of Anson and Aspermont and local schools.
If a teenager needs a chess opponent, well, this group can provide him with a tough opponent.
Benefits of “work”
Members of the Foster Grandparent Volunteer Program are paid $ 3 per hour. It’s not close to the minimum wage, but it does provide some income. Especially for volunteers who log in 40 hours a week.
Based on the regularly donated hours, volunteers were paid by the state throughout the pandemic.
There is also insurance if a volunteer has a travel accident because of the service.
Mileage is also paid for travel to volunteer destinations or provided bus passes. Program volunteers have participated in fishing events and, recently, the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival.
In addition, Internet for iPads will be provided.
The plan is to have volunteers ready to help when school starts in August.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer living in Taylor or a surrounding county can call 325-795-5703 or go to hhs.texas.gov/foster-grandparent.
Young said the motto was “Change the world, one child at a time.”
She refined this to “Strengthen our communities, from one generation to the next”.
Greg Jaklewicz is editor-in-chief of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you enjoy local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.