Area seniors give back through Foster Grandparent Program

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- A special volunteer program for senior citizens is bringing a sense of family right into the classroom at area schools.

Millie Schweinler is a Foster Grandparent at Parkview Elementary in Chippewa Falls. Millie is one of 40 area senior who have become Foster Grandparents in local schools through a special program. "I just think for older people, you need to be around younger people, you need to be around young teachers, I think its stimulating," said Schweinler.

The goal of the CESA 10 Foster Grandparents Program is to serve local students and low income senior citizens in the community. Foster Grandparents are trained volunteers and spend between 10 to 20 hours per week in local schools in Eau Claire, Chippewa, Clark, Trempeleau, Rusk, Taylor, and Monroe counties.

The program is sponsored nationally by the corporation for National and Community Service, Wisconsin Department of Health Services and CESA 10. Seniors who qualify for the program are offered a stipend of $2.65 per hour. Foster Grandparents are paired with teachers and spend one-on-one time with students who need extra help. Grandparents help with reading, writing, math, and more.

Millie has been a Foster Grandparent for 18 years. "I have enjoyed all 18 years," she says. Millie volunteers in the school up to 20 hours per week. "I like the energy. I like being with the kids," she said.

CESA 10 Administrator and Program Supervisor, Mary Jo Hanson says the program benefits everyone involved and gives Foster Grandparents something important to do each day. Millie agrees. "When we get old, sitting in front of a TV isn’t helping us, we need to get up and be active," she said.

The Foster Grandparent program has been around for 54 years. In that time it’s become an important part of the learning environment for both students and staff. Those involved say it creates a family environment within the classroom. “It adds another generation to the classroom environment. Our Grandparents are 70, 80, I have some who are over 90 years-old, so they bring patience and wisdom and understanding," says Hanson.

Foster Grandparents help students with reading, writing, math, and more. "Even though I’m working with the kids teaching them things, they are also teaching me things...not just about school work but about caring and we solve a lot of problems," said Millie.

Organizers are currently looking to add more Foster Grandparents to the program. "We always have teachers asking for Foster Grandparents so we have unmet needs. I would love to have some senior citizens who are passionate about working with children that we could add to our roster," said Hanson.

The annual recognition banquet will be held Thursday in Chippewa Falls to honor current Grandparent volunteers. "This is really a great feeling for us, we all need to be committed to something and commit to kids I think is one of the most important things we can do for them and for us," said Millie.

For more information on the Foster Grandparents Program or to apply, contact Mary Jo Hanson with questions at 715-720-2042 or mhanson@cesa10.k12.wi.us