UServeUtah, which is the state’s commission on service and volunteerism, works to inspire, mobilize, and equip both individuals and organizations to take action in their community’s transformation.
UServeUtah manages the Utah AmeriCorps program portfolio. Stefanie Moore, who is the AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteers Coordinator, wished to highlight the current work on the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Program in Carbon and Emery counties.
Currently, there are foster grandparents in eight counties through this program. At times, they are referred to more as classroom grandparents, as that targets the purpose more specifically. This program gets individuals that are aged 55 and older involved in intergenerational relationships in order to support children at school.
Heidi Essex is a local classroom grandparent that currently volunteers her time at Castle Heights Elementary (CHE) in Price. Essex volunteers in a fifth grade class and visits three days per week, usually remaining for two hours per day.
While there, the concentration for Essex is to assist with the students’ reading abilities. The classes are divided into different groups in rotations for about nine or 10 minutes, in which reading commences. Essex is also helping with the science fair, also involving reading. Furthermore, she encourages reading and math skills and there are other activities that take place within the classroom that she engages in.
“It’s just really fun to go in there, make a connection with them,” Essex shared.
Essex has thoroughly enjoyed making the connection with the students, stating that she had recently had fun pencil toppers she purchased from the Prehistoric Museum and placed them on pencils to hand out to the students, who she now deems her “little buddies.”
Moore stated that all of the students love Essex, highlighting a time that she was out sick and was forced to take time off. While off, the students ended up really missing her. Moore said that she is making a huge difference in their lives. Essex shared that she has noticed a huge difference in the student’s reading levels even since the beginning of this school year and she is excited to see how many levels they have gained by the end.
There is a large capacity at this time to have more older adults get involved in this program. There are some income guidelines as there is a stipend that comes with this service. This means that there are certain income levels they are looking for in volunteers, who also must pass a background check.
Moore said that this program is a need at all of the local schools and as soon as volunteers are found, they will contact the school that is closest to them. If there is interest in those in high school, the program can serve anyone up to 21.
Essex stated there was hesitation as she has attempted to recruit a couple of individuals into the program. One of the biggest concerns was that they did not want to be up at 8 a.m. and Essex wanted to stress that it is not a set schedule. After letting the teacher or Moore know the hours that an individual is willing to be available, it can be arranged.
For the senior companion program side, volunteers mainly provide the companionship, though there are some parameters for what the volunteers can do. Volunteers are trained and there are certain activities that many excel at. In terms of benefits of the volunteers, it was stated that they earn a sense of purpose and giving back that is hugely beneficial. There are many physical and mental health benefits to reap and there will be personal development due to training.
This is program that benefits both the volunteer and those that they are serving. Any that are interested in exploring the program can contact Moore at (435) 512-2455 or visit the UServeUtah website.