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On June 12th, two bus-loads of excited seniors – aged 55 to 91 – rolled into Dorchester to mark 50 years of the Action for Boston Community Development Inc.’s (ABCD’s) Foster Grandparents Program.

More than 170 seniors from all over Boston, speaking English, Spanish, Chinese, and Creole, came to Florian Hall last month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the program and its invaluable contribution to children’s lives in Boston.  The Foster Grandparents Program gives inner-city children – many of whom do not have grandparents or older relatives – the caring attention they need to be successful in school and beyond.

For seniors, who are retired or who have raised their own families and want to continue to contribute to their communities, ABCD’s Foster Grandparents partnership provides the opportunity to help children in Boston and Quincy with their school work and in life. The Foster Grandparents Program matches low-income seniors with children in schools, day care centers, hospitals and Head Start sites for 20 hours a week. Grandparents mentor, guide, help with homework and spend time with their “grandchildren” as part of social or recreational activities.

Marian, 91, is a Head Start volunteer. Lively and energetic, she helps low-income preschoolers learn to use crayons and pencils as well as some of the other basic tools that middle-class children have mastered by the time they start school.  Head Start makes a profound difference in the lives of more than 14,000 Massachusetts families, thanks to local seniors like Marian who has been a Head Start assistant for 21 years.

For 10 years, Carol has been a Foster Grandparent working with second graders at the Trotter Elementary School in Boston. At 72, she looks years younger than her appointed title of “Grandma” would suggest. She helps children with reading, math, drawing and social skills.  In fact, Carol enrolled in a six-week program to learn “new math” so that she can work more effectively with the children.  Knowing that some of her students don’t have daily snacks, Carol brings some from home so that no child in her class goes hungry.  Apart from her regular class assignments, Carol attends evening and special events at school.

“Sometimes I’m the first smiling face children see in the day,” Carol said. “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and kind.”

ABCD works with low-income Boston families to expand opportunity, scholastic achievement, housing stability, job-training, and family life.  Its multiple programs and goals are a collaboration of federal, state and local agencies, building and strengthening Commonwealth communities.  Promoting intergenerational programs like Head Start and Foster Grandparents, ABCD provides adult role models for children who come from fractured family situations, at the same time drawing on the experience and abilities of seniors looking for meaningful community opportunities.

Over the past fifty years, the senior population has exploded with the aging in of the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).  The fastest growing segment of the population is sixty-five and older, with people eighty-five and older, growing at the fastest rate of all.

People are living longer and healthier and want to stay engaged in their communities; at the same time the number of children living in single-parent families has almost doubled in fifty years.  Foster Grandparents offers a unique opportunity across the generations for seniors and for children they nurture.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Massachusetts, please check out the Foster Grandparents and the Massachusetts Service Corps, website at:
http://www.mass-service.org/service_volunteerism/national_service/senior_corps

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