Retiring foster grandparent: ‘I loved every minute of it’

Ruth Gibson first heard about MEOC’s Foster Grandparent Program more than two decades ago from a woman with whom she attended church.

“I think you’d enjoy it,” Gibson recalls the woman telling her. It sounded like she might. So she gave MEOC a call to learn more about the program. Thus began Gibson’s 20 years of volunteer service as a foster grandparent. And she has enjoyed it indeed.

“I loved every minute of it. I love working with children,” said 83-year-old Gibson, who recently retired from the program. “I’d still be doing it if my health hadn’t slowed me down,” she added.

The Foster Grandparent Program is among Senior Corps’ network of national service programs for Americans age 55 and older, according to the organization’s website. Through the Foster Grandparent Program, 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 the classroom teacher’s direction.

“They need our help – the children and the teachers too – and we (foster grandparents) gain so much from it. It’s a great program for all of us,” said Gibson, a Pennington Gap resident. She volunteered in pre-school classrooms in Lee County during her time with the program, most recently at Elk Knob Head Start I.

“So many children took up with me over the years, and I was attached to them too,” she continued. There was the little boy who insisted on sleeping beside her chair during nap time; he’d wake up and climb in her lap until his sleepiness had worn off. She fondly recalls another spirited young boy who could hardly sit still long enough to learn his letters and numbers, but she continued to work one-on-one with him until he finally did.

“They were all special. There’s so many little things, I could never tell you all about it,” Gibson noted. “I hope I was as much of a blessing to them as they were to me.”

MEOC Foster Grandparent Program Director Brandi Barnette had planned to celebrate Gibson’s service during a group event, but the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled those plans. “We were absolutely heartbroken when the annual recognition event was cancelled,” said Barnette. The event is an opportunity to showcase foster grandparents’ accomplishments alongside superintendents, principals and teachers from the sites where they serve, she added.

Gibson will be missed in the Foster Grandparent Program. “Ruth has been with the program nearly as long as MEOC has had the privilege to manage the grant. She has impacted countless childrens’ lives. We are so thankful for the 20 years of sacrifice, love and service Ruth has so graciously given, and she will be greatly missed,” said Barnette.

Many of MEOC’s foster grandparents are longtime participants. “Most of our participants have served in this program over 10 years. They continue to do so because they love children, and volunteering provides an opportunity to be involved in our community,” Barnette added.

Gibson is also a past recipient of MEOC’s Mae French Outstanding Older Worker Award, which is annually presented to one MEOC older worker who demonstrates qualities of service, loyalty, commitment and kindness in the workplace and community.

Foster grandparents must be at least age 55 and meet program income requirements. They receive a tax-free stipend, which does not affect eligibility for any public benefit.

Currently, due to COVID-19, Senior Corps and MEOC’s Foster Grandparent Program are working to create alternate service options for volunteers to continue to serve safely. For the upcoming school year, volunteers may be participating in other capacities not directly related to one-on-one with children in the schools. For more information or to apply to volunteer, please contact Barnette at (276) 523-4202 or brandi.barnette@meoc.org. Click here for a Foster Grandparent Program job description and application. 

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