Adopt-a-grandparent program fosters aloha, hope for special education kids

LIHU’E — When Harriet Organic raised her children on O’ahu years ago, she gave

them love, attention and aloha so they could come productive and caring

adults.

For the past four years, the 66-year-old Organic has done the same

for special education students through the state-sponsored Kaua’i Foster

Grandparent Program.

“I love them as if they were my own,” said Organic, a

Lihu’e resident.

Organic is the type of senior citizen the state

Department of Human Services hopes to recruit to strengthen the program, now

in its seventh year.

Along with 20 current volunteers, the new ones will

work with students who have special or exceptional needs, according to Jeanne

Stanwood, program supervisor with the state agency on Kaua’i.

Under the

supervision of teachers, the volunteers will serve as tutors, role models and

mentors to special education students from infancy to 18 years of age.

The

foster grandparents will help students with schoolwork, listen and “talk

story,” if asked, about their life experiences, Stanwood said.

The program

was launched nationwide 35 years ago with federal funds to Hawaii and 20 other

states.

Over the years, foster grandparents in Hawaii have provided more

than 1 million hours of service to thousands of children, said Rene Nakama, a

project director with the state agency on O’ahu.

On O’ahu, about 100 foster

grandparents tend to the needs of special education students.

The Kaua’i

program started seven years go with about three volunteers.

Twenty

volunteers serve at Waimea Canyon School, ‘Ele’ele Elementary School, Kalaheo

Elementary School, Wilcox Elementary School, King Kaumuali’i School, Kapa’a

Elementary and Kapa’a Middle School, YWCA Family Abuse Center and in Head Start

programs.

In the four years Organic has worked at Wilcox, she has cared for

36 students. She works at the school five hours a day, four days a

week.

Organic’s daily life is busy enough without her commitment to the

students. She helps feed the elderly at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, does work for

the Retired Senior Volunteers Program and runs errands and cares for seniors

who live with her at Lihu’e Gardens.

Her role as a foster grandparent

brings meaning to her life, Organic said.

“My own children are grown.

Being with the children makes me feel wanted,” she said. “I receive a lot of

aloha, which is important because I can feel the need the children have for

it.”

Through the classes, Organic said she is able to pass on values that

are important to her: Honesty, sharing, giving and love.

Organic said the

students look forward to her visits, a need that motivates her to give more of

herself.

All 36 students she has taught have different personalities and

needs, and it is a challenge for her to make contact with them, particularly

those who are shy and are initially lukewarm to her, Organic said.

“You

have to approach them in a way they are comfortable with. I hug them and

smile,” she related.

Students, she said, remember her long after they have

been promoted from elementary school to high school.

“They give me hugs.

Even at the high school level, they come and show their aloha,” Organic said.

“That warms my heart.”

The senior citizens get as much out of the programs

as the children do, Stanwood said.

“When they enter the program, it gives

them a chance to be part of the community. They feel a sense of worth. They are

happier and their health improves,” she explained.

The senior citizens fill

an important niche – that of love and support the students might not receive

elsewhere, Stanwood said.

The students benefit tremendously from the

nurturing and wisdom the senior citizens pass onto them, according to Stanwood.

“It is like giving water to a plant,” she said.

The Kaua’i program’s

seniors average 73 years of age and are retired business people and housewives.

They are considered volunteers but receive a non-taxable stipend of $2.55 an

hour during a 20-hour work week.

To qualify to work in the program, foster

grandparents must love children, be physically fit, must meet income

requirements, be 60 years of age and older, be willing to accept supervision

and must be able to render services for 20 hours.

In return for their

services, foster grandparents, among other benefits, receive a daily meal or

allowance, are reimbursed for transportation and receive training.

For this

fiscal year, the state agency received $411,404 from the Washington-based

Corporation for National Service and $293,254 in state funds to implement the

program statewide.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at

245-3618 (ext. 224) or lchang@pulitzer.net

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