Spring was in the air as local teachers and other guests gathered May 16 to honor 27 foster grandparent volunteers at a special recognition event.

The event, A Spring Social: Seeds Planted for a Child’s Future, was held at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Big Stone Gap and catered by The Shack.

Teachers with a foster grandparent volunteer serving in their classrooms contributed spring-themed crafts created by the children. These crafts were on display as decorations for the spring social recognition event. Several volunteers shed happy tears upon discovering these creations donated by the teachers and children.

“Most of the teachers requested that I keep the craft decorations a secret to be revealed to the foster grandparents at the recognition ceremony,” said Melissa Reifert, Mountain Empire Older Citizens Foster Grandparent Program director. “It was a difficult task for the teachers to keep the crafts hidden during the weeks leading up to the event, and it was a challenge for me to visit the schools to pick up these surprises without being seen by one of our volunteers. It all worked out, and as I suspected, our participants were thrilled with the decorations the children created specifically for them. It was really touching to witness their reactions.”

The Foster Grandparent Program is part of the Senior Corps division of the Corporation for National and Community Service and provides benefits to both the children who are served and to the senior citizens who participate by presenting them with the opportunity to stay active in their communities. It was created in 1964 under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and was authorized by the Older Americans Act of 1965 to begin as a national demonstration effort to show how seniors can establish meaningful relationships with children in need.

MEOC sponsors the program for the service region of Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the city of Norton.

For the 2018-19 school year, 27 foster grandparent volunteers served as mentors, tutors, role models and friends to at-risk children in the service region’s elementary schools and Head Start classrooms. The volunteers are an integral part of an overall support system and work one-on-one with students under the supervision of the teacher in whose classroom they are assigned to work.

At the end of the recognition program, teachers offered testimonials about their experience with the Foster Grandparent Program and the volunteers serving in their classrooms.

Union Primary School kindergarten teacher Leslie Slagle spoke about Thelma Smith, from Dryden. Slagle’s class contributed an art project entitled “Grandma Thelma’s Garden,” which was used as a table centerpiece for the spring social event.

“With 21 children in my class, it is hard sometimes to show that special attention to each child, each day,” said Slagle. “Grandma Thelma makes that a priority. Grandma Thelma is always willing to lend an extra hand. Just getting hugs and attention is what some children need most. That one-on-one time is so important, not just for academics but especially for emotional issues. I think this is one of the best benefits of this program.”

All 27 foster grandparents received gifts at the event in appreciation for their service during the past school year. In addition, all volunteers had the opportunity to take home the craft decorations created for them by the children they serve and the teachers with whom they work.

Reifert is currently recruiting for five new participants to join the Foster Grandparent Program. Applicants must be 55 years or older. Volunteers have the opportunity to earn mileage reimbursement and hourly stipend pay if eligibility requirements are met. For an application or more information, contact melissa.reifert@meoc.org or 276/523-4202, extension 430.