Seniors sought for tutoring and mentoring at local schools

By: Kayla Dimick | C&G Newspapers | Published November 16, 2017

OAKLAND COUNTY —  A local organization is bridging the generation gap between seniors and children, and it is looking for more volunteers to help make a difference. 

According to Herschell Masten, director of senior and volunteer services at Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, the organization is looking for people ages 55 and older who are interested in tutoring local children. 

The organization’s mission, as stated on its website, includes providing quality and professional services that help mobilize hope in surrounding communities.

Senior volunteers are needed to provide one-on-one support to children in local Oakland County schools through the Foster Grandparents Program. The FGP has been happening around the country for over 50 years, Masten said, and for over 40 years in southeast Michigan. 

“Grandparents” will have the opportunity to impact children with special or exceptional needs, while also helping them develop academic and life skills, Masten said. 

“Their role is to act as mentors and tutors for the young people who have that special need. Generally, they are assigned anywhere from two to four children, and they form a one-on-one relationship,” Masten said. 

Children selected for the program have a wide range of needs, Masten said, from help with reading and math to help working on social behavior. Some students have developmental disabilities, he said. 

“Many of the young people that have foster grandparents have not had any interaction with an older adult. Many of them have not interacted with the grandparents. Foster grandparents, in many cases, are the first person they’ve interacted with that is an older adult, so the program is really an intergenerational program,” Masten said. “Primarily, what the grandparents do provide is a role model for appropriate social behavior, but there are also academics that they do assist with.”

The FGP is open to seniors on a limited income who are willing to dedicate at least 15 hours per week to the program. Volunteers receive a tax-free stipend, as well as assistance with meals, transportation, and supplemental accident and liability insurance.

Masten said the program is twofold in that it provides unique benefits to both the children it serves and the volunteers. 

“One of the goals is to provide volunteers with meaningful volunteer opportunities in the community. We feel that older adults are a valuable community resource and (are) not being utilized to the extent that they could,” he said. “The Foster Grandparents Program allows them to be active in the community and add to the well-being of the community. We don’t want our older adults sitting at home in a rocking chair not doing anything, so we promote positive aging, and we make sure our grandparents are active mentally as well as physically.”

Oak Park resident Ruth Gibson has been volunteering with the FGP since 2011 at Einstein Elementary School in Oak Park, she said. 

Gibson said she enjoys being able to interact with people her own age, and also with the children in the program. 

“It teaches some of them respect, because some of them don’t know that. Some kids need a little more affection than others, so we try to give them that also,” Gibson said. “I’ve seen kids go from kindergarten ... and on to middle school.”

Interested volunteers can contact Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan at (855) 882-2736, Masten said.