With 63 volunteers Lauderdale County currently has the largest number of participants in a Foster Grandparents Program in East Mississippi. However, even more are needed. We caught up with organizers of the program during members monthly meeting Thursday.
"Our volunteers commit to 20 hours a week in the schools. It's like a major commitment that they make," says Foster Grandparent Program Coordinator, Carlotta Downing.
Similar programs are in place in Clarke, Jasper and Lowndes counties.
"It is federally funded and our foster grandparent volunteers are eligible to receive a stipend of $2.65 an hour that is non-taxable; it cannot be taxed. So, it can't be counted against whatever other income they receive," says Downing.
In Lauderdale County all volunteers within the program work at various schools, where they assigned students who have special needs which range from those who have physical disabilities to those who have problems reading.
"I love it!" says 78-year-old Catherine Watkins, who is now in her 7th year of volunteering. "I've always worked with children; I've always done it."
"I love working with the children and seeing the smiles on their faces, and stuff like that," says 79-year-old Eartha Young, who has volunteered for the past 14 years. "It helps me as much as it helps the children."
"I keep doing it because I love it," says 84-year-old Ida Durham. So far, she has volunteered 22 years. "The children keep me going; the children keep me young, and I can help them."
Program volunteers tutor or mentor students who range from 3 to 21-years-old. All volunteers must be 55 or older and pass a background check. For more information on the Foster Grandparent Program call (601) 482-9880.