Foster grandparents aid youths in custody

Bradley Clifton knows that when he sees Beverly Shelton walk into the classroom that there will be no such thing as down time.

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Volunteer grandmothers Fay Brownlee (right) and Beverly Shelton work with Terrance (left) and Bradley at the Augusta Youth Development Campus.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Volunteer grandmothers Fay Brownlee (right) and Beverly Shelton work with Terrance (left) and Bradley at the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

"She doesn't let me get away with just sitting there. I know I got to get my work done," said the inmate at the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

He has come to appreciate it, though.

"She helps me with my work and helps me improve my reading skills. She also talks to me about my behavior," he said. "Nothing gets by her, but that makes me feel good. It makes me happy to see someone help me with my work and somebody who wants me to do better."

Shelton is one of seven foster grandparent volunteers assigned to the Augusta campus.

"Bradley, he was my first 'grandson' when I came here," she said. "He's made great progress. I'm very proud of the progress he's made."

The foster grandparent program is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service and is sponsored locally by the Senior Citizens Council.

The senior citizens volunteer 20 hours a week with area organizations. About 90 participants are in the program, including the seven assigned to YDC, said Jackie Kennedy, the volunteer coordinator for the Senior Citizens Council.

Shelton began participating in the program in 2006. She was first assigned to Barton Chapel Elementary. When she returned after a brief absence from the program, Kennedy asked her whether she would be willing to go to YDC.

"I told her I didn't want to go into the jails anymore. I didn't want to work law enforcement anymore," said Shelton who worked in law enforcement from 1968 to 2005. She moved to Augusta after Hurricane Katrina.

"Jackie then explained to me that it would be helping boys who have problems with reading, with math and with social skills. Just like I did with the little kids," she said. "I said I would go for 30 days, but after that I didn't think I was going to stay. And now, if she tries to pull me out and put me somewhere else, I'll be screaming and hollering. I like seeing the progress these boys make and the difference I'm making by being here."

She has volunteered at YDC for nearly three years.

From the time the foster grandparents step on campus, everyone notices them -- and not just because of their red jackets, said Benjamin Small, the volunteer coordinator for the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

"When the grandparents walk in, it's like they command respect," he said.

At the same time, they genuinely want to see the youths improve their lives, he added.

"I think being able to get that respect and be caring at the same time comes from their understanding of children. They understand they don't have to shout, but they can still be firm," he said. "You tend to think because they are older, that they are shy and easy to walk over, but these boys learn quickly that's not the case. They learn they are serious about what they do."

After they are used to seeing the grandparent, when they don't show up, the youths become concerned, he said.

"They will ask abut them," he said. "It's like they become a part of the family."

Their concern for the volunteers says a lot, said Darline Riggenbach, also a foster grandparent volunteer.

"They can act tough, but let you not show up, it gets back to you just how concerned they get when they don't see you," she said. "The fact they even ask about you lets you know you must be doing something right. You're making a difference somehow."

Before they begin volunteering on the campus, volunteers undergo training to learn about the environment they are going into and the regulations, Small said.

The foster grandparent volunteers are also given assignment plans for the youths. The plans differ for each individual and include their academic and personal goals.

"Their impact on the youths far exceeds academics," Small said. "They sit and talk with them about their attitudes and behavior. There are times when they come in and say, ':Let's work on you and your goals today.' They do a lot of that."

Those talks are helpful for Cedric Hayes, who has since left the YDC.

"I've learned to ignore what other people say about me," he said. "They taught me how to do the right things."

The foster grandparents play an important role on the campus, said director John Brady.

"Our main goal is that these kids get experiences with people they can trust and people who care about their education so they can make better decisions in the future," he said.

"The more outside people we have coming in and working with the kids, the more it benefits them. To tell you the truth, I wish I had 10 more of them (foster grandparents). They have made a world of difference here."

The key to being a positive influence in a child's life is making the effort, said Fay Brownlee, a foster grandparent volunteer.

"You must to have an open mind and be willing to work hard," she said.

"When you see them improve, that's your reward for your work and nothing is more satisfying than that."

Helping out

The Augusta Youth Development Campus is one of many sites in the foster grandparent program. Sites include schools and area nonprofit and faith-based organizations.

The Senior Citizens Council also has other volunteer programs.

For more information about the foster grandparent program or any of the other programs, call (706) 868-0120.


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