Foster Grandparenting Keeps Volunteers Feeling Young and Healthy
Denver – When Maria Valdez lost her son and grandchild in 1996, she was a wreck and said she felt lost. The small newspaper advertisement she came across about the Foster Grandparent Program became a godsend for her.
“It gives me a reason to get up in the morning,” she said. “I enjoy kids, I love being with kids. If you can make a difference in a kid’s life, that’s the most important thing you can do.”
Now, after more than two decades working with children as a Foster Grandparent, “Grandma Maria” is more passionate about serving than she was when she started. She will begin her twenty-second school year in August, and her fifteenth at Lincoln Elementary in Loveland.
Volunteering has been more to Grandma Maria than an enjoyable way to stay involved with children in her community, though. Her doctor recently told her it’s helping keep her healthy.
In 2012, the Corporation for National & Community Service conducted a research study to look into the health benefits of volunteering. Research found volunteering reduces depression, stress and risk of disease, among other things, while increasing physical fitness, mental functionality, sense of purpose and longevity.
If the health benefits alone aren’t enough to get seniors to volunteer, Grandma Maria has another impassioned plea to potential volunteers.
“You should not be at home thinking about this or that or about yourself,” she said. “Think about those poor kids who need us. I’ve gotten to see children I started with make something out of their lives.”
Grandma Maria recalled a recent doctor’s visit where she was greeted with hugs from a friendly nurse’s assistant. She turned out to be a former student who credited Grandma Maria with helping bring her up to where she is now.
“I would strongly recommend seniors look into this program,” she said. “If you really love kids, you can’t go wrong. I know because I’ve been doing it for 21 years.”
Foster Grandparents must commit at least 15 hours per week to the program, but also receive a nontaxable stipend of $2.65 per hour, which does not affect benefits such as Social Security, food stamps, housing subsidies or Medicare/Medicaid.
For many Foster Grandparent volunteers, the real value of the program isn’t in money or benefits, but the look on a child’s face when they’ve helped them accomplish something. It’s one of the many reasons Grandma Maria keeps coming back year after year.
“I have no plans to go anywhere,” she said. “If I’m in this good of shape when I’m 100, I’ll probably still be volunteering.”
To learn more about becoming a Foster Grandparent in the Denver area, call 303-297-0408 and ask for the Foster Grandparent Program.
ABOUT VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA
Volunteers of America is a national, nonprofit, faith-based organization dedicated to helping those in need live healthy, safe and productive lives. Since 1896, our ministry of service has supported and empowered America’s most vulnerable groups, including the frail elderly, people with disabilities, at-risk youth, homeless individuals, women in need, and veterans and their families. For more information about Volunteers of America, visit www.voacolorado.org