We all need purpose

Most kids grow up with two sets of grandparents – sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less – but one nationwide program has been providing students with a few extra for more than half a century.

AmeriCorp’s Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) marked its 50th year, but this year, the Fort Dodge area program will celebrate that milestone. A 50th anniversary celebration is scheduled for Friday, May 19, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Cardiff Center at Fort Frenzy, 3232 First Ave. S.

FGP is a program for men and women aged 55 and older who would like to work with younger students. The grandparents go into local schools and work one-on-one with students who may need a little extra help with everything from math to sight words to spelling to reading, depending on the grade level.

“It’s such an important program,” said Mary Solverson, program director. “The kids really benefit from the grandparents’ experience.”

In the 50 years the FGP has been active in the Fort Dodge area, 142 volunteers have served hundreds of thousands of hours in classrooms. The most basic requirement for a volunteer, Solverson said, is to love kids.

“They want to feel like they’re still getting up and have a purpose every day,” she added. “We all need a purpose, no matter how old we get. They feel like they’re part of a little family as well, and I think that makes a big difference.”

When Solverson started working for the program in 2010, they had almost 50 volunteers, she said. By the time COVID-19 hit, that number was down to about 27. Now, there are 14 grandmas in the program who have a combined 103 years of service, Solverson said.

Grandma Julia LaBaume has worked in Stacie Schultz’s second grade classroom at Dayton Elementary School for 11 years. In all, LaBaume has volunteered more than 13,000 hours.

“What a blessing she has been,” Schultz said. “She has a way of knowing which students need extra love and support. She spends time just talking to kids and making them feel important – she cheers them on and helps them believe in themselves.”

LaBaume has also helped in Jennifer Housken’s first-grade class at Dayton.

“Julia means the world to our students,” Housken said. “Her kindness, patience and love help support their learning.”

Housken said her students’ favorite times are when they get to go out in the hall and work one-on-one with LaBaume.

“Grandma Julia means everything to us teachers as well,” Housken said. “The things she does in her time at school positively impact our students every single day.”

Volunteers with the FGP have worked with more than 153 teachers at 25 different sites in Webster and Calhoun counties, Solverson said. The longest-serving volunteers include Marvel McCormack (22,000 hours over 26.5 years), Mardell Reed (25,000 hours over 25.5 hours), Delores Jochimsen (31,000 hours over 25 years) and Roma Fuller (22,000 hours over 21 years). Just in the last 26 years alone, volunteers have served more than 700,000 hours.

The volunteers do receive training before they begin in the schools and then have ongoing training monthly for 10 months of the year. Volunteers also complete a detailed background check prior to training.

Eligible volunteers can receive a stipend if they meet the income requirements and all volunteers receive meal and transportation reimbursement.

The program is funded by a federal grant through AmeriCorps. While the city does sponsor the program, it is not a city program and very little cost is incurred by the city besides a small fund match for the grant.

For more information or to volunteer, call 515-576-5401.


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