The Foster Grandparent Program has been a vital part of the Oakland County community since 1975, and its 29 volunteers this year continue to make an impact.

The Foster Grandparent Program has been a vital part of the Oakland County community since 1975, and its 29 volunteers this year continue to make an impact.

Photo provided by Carol Wall

Foster Grandparent Program changes young lives

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Southfield Sun | Published September 22, 2022


SOUTHFIELD — As classes are back in session for young students, a few schools will be welcoming back their senior class assistants.

They’ve been an integral part of the classroom, and it’s all thanks to an Oakland County program that aimed to make a significant impact in the community.

The Foster Grandparent Program in Oakland County has made a one-on-one impact with students since its formation in 1975.

“The whole premise behind the program is for volunteers who are 55 or older to work one-on-one with students who have been identified by their teachers as having a disability, whether it’s learning or social,” Foster Grandparent Program Manager Carol Wall said. “They really form a special bond with these students.”

The program, which currently has 29 volunteers, works closely with eight different schools in the Oakland County area, including the Bussey Center for Early Childhood Education in Southfield, Ferndale Lower Elementary School, and the Wing Lake Development Center in Bloomfield Hills.

“They’re so dependable,” Wall said. “They show up, and that’s why the schools really love them.”

The program places seniors in the classroom to work with students one-on-one with tasks such as tutoring, reading and writing, and mentoring as well.

Volunteers work 20 hours a week, with reimbursement on food and transportation provided, and they typically work in the same classroom each year.

“You get a chance to know the staff and the staff knows you; it’s like being a part of the family,” volunteer Earline Rorie said.

Rorie, a Southfield native who currently works with the kindergartners at Pepper Elementary, has volunteered with the program since January 2018.

Rorie heard of the foster program through her local paper, the Southfield Sun, and was looking for a community-based program to occupy her time. As a volunteer-oriented leader with her children’s schools and her church, she’s been a vital volunteer for the program.

“I enjoy working in the program where you have the insight where you work with the kids and you’re out in the community,” Rorie said. “They’re inspirational, and you have an impact on them to learn, and they have an impact on you as well.”

Rorie was one of many volunteers who was a part of the program through the pandemic as the one-on-one sessions transitioned to Zoom meetings.

While it’s a challenging adjustment, it opened an avenue for the program that became an important part of where it stands today.

“I saw firsthand how the seniors were able to work virtually one-on-one with the students working on flash cards, and it really had a lot of success,” Wall said.

With that success came a brand-new computer lab in Southfield and the birth of the Foster Grandparent Seniors With Limited Mobilities Program, where seniors can work virtually with their students at the computer lab. The lab is wheelchair-accessible as well.

It’s a different setup from the in-class visits, but it creates the same strong bond the students have grown to love.

“I had one come up to me the other day and say ‘Hi, Grandma,”’ Rorie said. “It’s just so amazing to see how fast they grow up.”

The program is in need of volunteers who are ready to make a difference in the community.

“We’re looking for folks with big hearts who want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Wall said.

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