Dallas Foster Grandparent Program

In 2005, Winnie Mitchell of North Texas called 211 because she needed help paying her water bill. She was directed to The Senior Source, a nonprofit organization that assists older adults in volunteering, money consultations, employment services and eldercare. The Senior Source helped her pay her bill, and then advised Mitchell to work in one of the volunteer programs offered through the organization.

Nine years later, at the age of 62, Mitchell is a veteran volunteer to children and adolescents through the Dallas Foster Grandparent Program.

“We are mentors to these children,” she said. “ They like having an elder to communicate with and someone to look up to.”

The federally funded program by the Corporation for National and Community Service pairs low income adults age 55 and older with troubled, disabled or hospitalized children 17 and younger. More than 100 foster grandparents give children 15 to 40 hours every week of warmth, kindness and attention at hospitals, homeless shelters, special care facilities and pre-school centers around Dallas.

Mitchell began her volunteering at Off the Rocker in Dallas, a previously sponsored program by The Senior Source, working with children in elementary school. She now volunteers at The Phoenix House, a drug recovery center for adolescents located on Reagan Street in Dallas.

During the week, she can be found spending her time reading with the children, assisting in their recovery, talking and listening to them. Mitchell considers the most important lesson she can teach the children is to learn from their mistakes and never give up. But above all, she is there to love them.

“That’s what they’re missing, and that’s what they need,” she said.

The program is beneficial to both generations said Farahana Kassam, who has been the Foster Grandparent Program Director for the past 13 months. The volunteers earn a sense of purpose, achievement, and an opportunity to make a difference and believe in themselves regardless of how old they are. The children become their hope, their aspirations, and a new companion.

The children in return receive the extra support, motivation, and gain someone who believes in them. The consistency provided by the grandparent provides the child a sense of security and belonging that will impact them throughout their lives, Kassam said.

“It’s a grandparent grandchild relationship. Really that says it all,” she said.

Marietta Lewis is a foster grandparent five days a week at The Family Place, where she nurtures children in kindergarten through 2nd grade who are victims of domestic violence. The Family Place offers programs and support for victims of family violence.

Helping the children accomplish something, from the simplest task of writing their name or tying their shoe, makes getting up every morning fun and enjoyable, said Lewis. And the love shared is unconditional. Lewis recalls a day in the cafeteria volunteering.

“I kept hearing someone yell ‘Granny! Granny!’” she said. “When I finally turned around it was a set of twins running up to give me a hug.”

Mitchell thanks God for the Senior Source for getting her out of the house after she retired. “It is so rewarding,” she said. “Working there makes you feel alive!”

Mitchell admits that not every day is a piece of cake. “Some do good and some don’t, but you don’t give up,” she said. “Then you pray and hope for the best.”

Future plans for the volunteers? Mitchell plans on becoming a foster parent, and Lewis will continue to volunteer as a foster grandparent just like her own mother has done for the past 12 years. In the meantime, they continue to provide love, faith and knowledge to deserving children.

For more information about volunteering through the foster grandparent program, visit www.theseniorsource.org or call 214.823.5700.

Alexa Malevitis is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in journalism and fashion media and minoring in advertising. She can be reached at amalevitis@smu.edu.

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