Helen Turner doesn’t see her biological grandchildren often, but when school is in session, she sees her foster grandchildren at Rancho Village Elementary School almost every day.
After 16 years of working with the Foster Grandparent Program, sometimes she loses track of those she has fostered.
“Some of them, I don’t even know them anymore, because they’re so grown up. Some of them kind of change their personalities,” Turner said.
Turner has been volunteering in the program, which brings seniors into elementary schools to teach children who need extra help, ever since a friend suggested it when the two were chatting at church one day.
New sponsoring agency
This school year, the program will be in different hands. After being sponsored by the state Department of Human Services for about 40 years, the program is now coordinated through Sunbeam Family Services, an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit.
Sunbeam Family Services focuses on helping the poor and working poor in communities by providing r counseling, early childhood, foster care and senior services. Since Sunbeam already had several programs in place for seniors, sponsoring the Foster Grandparent Program seemed like a good idea, said Patrick O’Kane, director of senior services for Sunbeam.
When Sunbeam took over the program, it inherited its 58 volunteering seniors. About 70 percent of those seniors volunteer in the Oklahoma City metro area, and the others volunteer in the Enid area, he said.
To manage the two groups, O’Kane will hire a full-time person in Oklahoma City and a part-time person in Enid, he said.
Seniors volunteering in the program must be older than 55 and live below the poverty level. After being trained, they are assigned to schools where they pair with a student who needs one-on-one attention with their schoolwork, O’Kane said.
Turner works from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. four days a week. She mostly helps children with reading, but can also help with math — as long as it’s not algebra, she said.
Even though she’s been out of school for decades, she said she learns everyday working with the first-graders.
“It keeps your mind open, because every day is a new day,” Turner said. “I learned some things from them, you know?”
At a glance
Foster Grandparent Program volunteers by city/town
Oklahoma City: 20
Midwest City: 3
El Reno: 2
How to help
Donating and volunteering
To donate to Sunbeam Family Service’s Foster Grandparent Program, go to the website at sunbeamfamilyservices.org. You can also mail in donations or drop off donations at 616 NW 21, Oklahoma City, OK 73103.
To volunteer, call Sunbeam Family Services at 528-7721. Volunteers must be 55 or older and live below the poverty level.
... Every day is a new day.”
Foster Grandparent Program volunteer