Nelda “Moe” Dennison first heard about Mountain Empire Older Citizens’ Foster Grandparent Program when she was 57 years old.
She was a regular volunteer on field trips and other activities with her granddaughter’s class at Appalachia Elementary School. “A lady there knew about the program and encouraged me to check on it,” recalled Dennison. She was drawn to the idea of volunteering in a classroom where she would help care for and mentor young children.
The Foster Grandparent Program is among Senior Corps’ network of national service programs for Americans age 55 and older. Eligible senior citizens volunteer 15-40 hours per week in elementary schools and Head Start classrooms. 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 a classroom teacher’s direction.
Dennison made a call to Zelma Aichel, program director at the time. Unfortunately, Dennison learned, she wasn’t yet old enough to participate. Dennison was only 57; foster grandparents were required to be at least 60 at the time. (The minimum age requirement has since changed to 55.) Aichel encouraged her to check back when she turned 60.
But Dennison called the next year on her 58th birthday and the next on her 59th – just in case the program’s age requirement may have changed. It remained the same, however. Aichel offered the same advice: Call back when you’re 60.
Then her 60th birthday rolled around. Again, she dialed MEOC’s number and asked for Aichel.
“Zelma, guess what,” she recalls saying.
“What?” Aichel responded.
“Today’s my birthday. I’m 60!” Dennison remembers with a laugh.
Dennison just turned 78 and has been a foster grandparent for almost 19 years, volunteering early on in elementary classrooms at Appalachia and Norton. For the past seven years, she has served at Kids Central in Norton. Dennison’s service there recently earned her the Kids Central Inc. Volunteer of the Year Award.
She was presented the award August 18. It recognizes “outstanding service to children and families, Kids Central, Inc. and the community.”
“It’s a fantastic place to work. As soon as you start working there, you’re hooked,” said Dennison, who primarily cares for younger children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 15 months. “But I love helping with any age group,” she added. Dennison is a natural when it comes to caring for youngsters. She is part of a large family with “all kinds of babies and kids,” she said.
MEOC Foster Grandparent Program Director Brandi Barnette said, “Moe has a quiet strength about her. She has been a constant in the program for nearly 20 years, and we are very thankful and honored for her to receive this award. Before COVID-19, at each monthly in-service, you could count on a homemade batch of her peanut butter fugde being passed around and enjoyed by all. She never fails to bring a smile to every one’s face.”
Besides working with children, Dennsion said the program has provided her the opportunity to meet other volunteers from throughout Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton.
She said she plans to stay in the Foster Grandparent Program “as long as I’m able.”
For more information or to apply to be a foster grandparent, please contact Brandi Barnette at (276) 523-4202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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