How do we get seniors to mentor kids?

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Not that long ago, “senior” Americans volunteered in our schools and did so only to benefit from some heart-felt thanks.  Almost always under a teacher’s supervision, whose work they labored to supplement, their purpose was to help children learn to read, write and use numbers.

Seniors working with kids in a school setting has been mainly viewed as a good-fit with successful relationships the pay off.  They’ve provided children one-on-one attention while feeling appreciated, that having been the standard of older persons volunteering in our schools.

Now we learn that some of these great interactions have ended locally due to the fact that AmeriCorps Senior Corps, a service organization for those 55 and older, and run here by Center 50+, has run out of money for this purpose.  Meanwhile, whatever happened to the volunteer, those who gave of his and her time and effort warmly, willingly and without monetary reward?

My surprise with the Foster Grandparents Program is that foster grandparents have read to children while being paid a $2.65 per hour stipend.  Is that what it takes any more to get older folks away from their TVs and into schools to help the youngest generation?  They must be paid a stipend to do it?  Yes, I know, there must be mitigating circumstances; yet, what’s the degree of incentive at $2.65 for earnings these days and, according to law here, why weren’t they most recently paid Oregon’s minimum wage at $9.10 per hour?

Whatever the case, in our brave new world, if the $2.65 per hour is a do-or-die matter, there must be some means by which a 3-year federal contract of $114,663, with funding help from Center 50+ at $58,000, can come from someplace besides the U.S. government and the Salem Senior Center.  Then, too, one wonders what is more important to the leadership at senior center folks than that which helps cash-strapped seniors from going nuts by way of daytime soaps.

Meanwhile, one fact that’s come out regarding the program is that, due to health issues, the number of participating seniors has declined from 37 three years ago to 20 at the end of the 2013-14 school year, although both numbers add up to a rather paltry paid senior-presence in our schools.  It’s guessed that there’s been ineffective advertising of the program or the nearly 50 percent decline would likely not have taken place.

Could Center 50+ not approach local businesses to find sponsors?  Are there not charitable organizations and foundations that believe strongly enough in activities like the Foster Grandparent Program to support it?  Would it not be a better fit to get away from the ever-fickle and partisan federal government for financial favors and, instead, make it something local folks can hold up as an example of community caring?

In the final analysis, there is something about this activity that caused me pause.  It’s reported that the Foster Grandparents Program received $114,663 from the federal government and $58,000 from Center 50+ for a total budget of $172,663.  There were 20 grandparents in the program this past school year at $2.65 rate of pay per hour.  How does it compute that 20 current program participants working a few hours a week during a 34-week school year could use up anything like $172,663?  Are overhead costs here higher than a moon shot?  If so, who’s been the beneficiary as it would seem not to be the grams and gramps?

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer. His column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)

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