Foster grandparent celebrated for service

BIG STONE GAP — Eighty-three-year-old Ruth Shawver listened intently from her chair as Bill Dotson began speaking during a February in-service training for Mountain Empire Older Citizens’ Foster Grandparent Program.

Dotson, a former FGP director, stood in front of the foster grandparents gathered in MEOC’s conference room on Feb. 24. The meeting was especially significant for Shawver, as it would be her last as a program participant. She has retired as a foster grandparent after 13 years of service.

Shortly after Dotson began speaking, however, Shawver’s gaze shifted to a group of young children filing through the conference room doorway. As the young visitors’ identities dawned on her, Shawver’s solemn expression changed to surprise before settling at delight. Her face beaming, she stood and walked to greet the preschoolers from Shoemaker Head Start I and II, where she volunteered for years.

“You all are sneaky!” declared Shawver with a laugh, as the excited children, supervised by teachers and other caregivers, crowded around her. Several youngsters scrambled to share a hug with “Miss Ruth.”

Current Foster Grandparent Program Director Brandi Barnette had arranged for the Shoemaker children to visit Shawver and bid her farewell. The preschoolers delivered to her a super-sized handmade card decorated with their names. The youngsters also assembled to perform two songs for Shawver.

“Ruth will be dearly missed. She has left a legacy of love to countless children. Her impact will change generations to come,” said Barnette.

Those kinds of connections, which mutually benefit foster grandparents and the children they serve, are evidence of the program’s success. A Senior Corp initiative, the Foster Grandparent Program unites generations by placing eligible senior citizens in elementary schools and Head Start classrooms, where they volunteer 15-40 hours per week. MEOC’s foster grandparents are assigned to classrooms throughout the agency’s service area of Lee, Scott and Wise counties and Norton. They work one-on-one with children under the classroom teacher’s direction.

Program participants must be at least age 55 and meet income requirements. They receive a tax-free stipend, which does not affect Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, rental assistance, food stamps or federal fuel assistance.

Currently, MEOC’s Foster Grandparent Program has openings at Shoemaker Head Start, Yuma Elementary School, Wise Primary School, Kids Central – Big Stone Gap, St. Paul Elementary School, Flatwoods Head Start II and St. Charles Head Start.

To learn more about the program, contact Barnette at (276) 523-4202 or