Despite school closures, foster grandparents will receive stipends

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Foster grandparents help students with reading, math and other subjects in a federal program operated in Mesa County by St. Mary’s Medical Center. Participants will continue to receive stipends despite school closures related to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo courtesy Foster Grandparent Program)

Barbara Reynolds misses interacting with students at Nisley Elementary School in Grand Junction and time spent reading and offering encouragement to them.

Reynolds remains grateful she won’t miss the stipend she receives for her work with the Foster Grandparent Program operated in Mesa County by St. Mary’s Medical Center. “It’ll help me buy groceries, medicine and stuff like that.”

Reynolds is among 46 participants in the program who’ll continue to receive stipends despite the closure of Mesa County School District 51 schools because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Susan Nickels, manager of the Foster Grandparent Program, said she obtained permission from the Corporation for National and Community Service to continue paying participants during the closure. “It was a huge relief.”

At $3 an hour, the stipend isn’t large. But most of the participants are people age 55 and older who live at or near poverty levels. That makes the stipend a needed source of additional income, Nickels said.

A federal program, the Foster Grandparent Program recruits and trains seniors to work with children in schools. Participants assist students with reading, math and other subjects as well as help those who need additional attention. Some foster grandparents work a few hours a week, others work up to 40 hours a week.

Reynolds said she’s worked in the program eight years, most recently dividing her time between Nisley Elementary and the Mini Mavs daycare at Colorado Mesa University.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” Reynolds said of the Foster Grandparents Program.

And it’s a personally rewarding effort she said, in helping children. “Those kids all seem to need a little more confidence and moral support.” 

While a few of the foster grandparents have arranged to meet with students through online conferences, Nickels said most of them miss that connection with schools closed. “They miss being with the kids.”

But Nickels and Reynolds said they’re thankful foster grandparents won’t miss the stipends.