Foster grandparents dote on youngsters

AIKEN - At 72, Creston Hewett goes to Belvedere Elementary School four days a week.

"I'm one of the last ones that leave the building each day," Mr. Hewett said.

He volunteers as a foster grandparent in Daria Crooks' kindergarten class so Ms. Crooks can spend more time with pupils.

"The kids think the sun rises and sets on Mr. Hewett," Ms. Crooks said.

Mr. Hewett is one of 300 people who volunteer in Aiken and Barnwell schools through the Aiken/Barnwell Community Action Commission Inc.

"The program began in the 1960s," said Joyce Los, a former foster grandparent and program assistant. "It serves over 28,000 foster grandparents nationwide and has helped over 230,000 children."

The program operates mainly to help pupils struggling with class work, but it was started to help low-income seniors, Ms. Los said.

Volunteers receive two weeks of training and a physical before entering the classroom. The seniors earn $2.65 an hour and work at least 20 hours each week.

"I would get bored at home," said Lucille Martin, 79. Ms. Martin is called "Grannie" by all the pupils in her class.

"She gives them the love they need that they don't always have," said Bridget Britton, a Belvedere kindergarten teacher.

Susan Toohey, another Belvedere kindergarten teacher, said that without her foster grandparent, Lucile Collins, four pupils wouldn't have made it to the first grade.

"She works with kids that are struggling in different areas," Ms. Toohey said. "If they need flashcards, she makes flashcards. There is no way we can do that when there are 18 kids in a class."

Ms. Collins, 86, said being in class also keeps her mind sharp.

"It makes us feel good that we can keep up at this stage of the game," Ms. Collins said.

Volunteers must be older than 60 to qualify, and the program always looks to add volunteers, Ms. Los said.

"So many (volunteers) come in and don't have a meaning and purpose for their life," Ms. Los said. "When you help someone else, it solves your problem."

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

VOLUNTEER REQUIREMENTS

Before stepping into a classroom, volunteers must:

- Be at least 60 years old

- Complete a physical exam

- Complete required training

- Meet the following minimum income requirements: Family of 1: $12,250 Family of 2: $16,500 Family of 3: $27,650 Family of 4: $25,000

Source: Aiken/Barnwell Community Action Commission Inc.


WANT TO VOLUNTEER?

To get involved in the Aiken/Barnwell foster grandparent program, contact Toni Brunson at (803) 648-6836. In Augusta, call Marilyn Grau at (706) 826-4480.