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Foster Grandparent Program celebrates 10 years

One Hope United’s Foster Grandparent Program in Mt. Vernon, Ill., celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, with an open house attended by community partners, including funding sources, school personnel, and other program supporters.

The program’s seniors, ages 55 years and older, volunteer 20 to 40 hours a week to tutor and mentor at-risk children in places such as schools, daycares, Head Starts, early learning centers and faith-based youth programs.

“The Foster Grandparent Program has helped the area schools in so many ways due to budget constraints,” said Jennifer Witzel, program coordinator. “Many teachers and administrators have told us that without the volunteers in their school there would be a huge void.”

Foster grandparents aim to “ensure that the children they serve have a bright future,” Witzel added.

Helping children also can benefit the volunteers.

“The Foster Grandparent Program through One Hope United gives me a reason to get up in the morning,” said volunteer Gene Shirley. “After my husband died, I struggled with depression and high blood pressure. After I had been in the program for a month, I went to my doctor. He said, ‘Gene, what have you been doing?’ I thought I was in trouble. He said, ‘Your blood pressure has improved and your outlook in life has done a 360.’ I shared with the doctor about the program, and he said, ‘Keep it up.’ I just love the kids.”

During its first year, the program had eight volunteers serving 25 children in five locations. Now, there are 34 volunteers serving more than 200 children in 34 locations.