By William Thompson
Josephine Martinez decided to become a foster grandparent because she “just got tired of being at home all the time.” Now she works about 20 hours a week at the Eastern Plains Community Action Agency’s Early Head Start classrooms.
“All of the kids here are special,” Martinez said. “We play, we talk. One boy, E.J., asks me, ‘Can I color, grandma?’”
Other foster grandparents say the same thing — the early head start kids call them grandma or grandpa.
Lisa Young, the foster grandparents program coordinator for Quay County, said, for some of the children, the foster grandparents are the only elderly people the children have contact with.
“The foster grandparents are here to offer encouragement, support and love,” Young said. “Each grandparent interacts without about seven children each day.”
Young said the program also sends foster grandparents to Tucumcari Elementary School throughout the school year.
“At the school, a foster grandparent is assigned to one or two students,” Young said. “The foster grandparent offers one-on-one supervised mentoring. For instance they will sit next to a student while he or she is learning to read to offer encouragement.”
Young emphasized that at no time are foster grandparents left alone with children either at the Head Start program or at the school.
The foster grandparents program is open to anyone 60 or older. It is primarily a volunteer program but if certain income requirements are met, then up to $2.65 per hour is paid. Young said her agency has a demand for more foster grandparents in Quay County.
Background checks and fingerprinting are required of all applicants.
Bertha Henderson became a foster grandparent about seven years ago.
“It’s a lot of work, but to me it’s very rewarding,” Henderson said. “It feels good in my heart.”
Henderson tried to keep an infant girl’s attention Monday at the Head Start program by entertaining her with a cow puppet, but the little girl’s attention drifted elsewhere. Henderson works with children from infancy up to 2 years old.
“I’ve worked at the elementary school too and the kids I spent time with there remember me years later,” Henderson said.
Marie Slack became a foster grandparent after being unable to find employment.
“Every time I looked for a new job, they said I was too old,” Slack said. “The stipend I get here at least helps with buying groceries. One boy I work with here, Simon, comes up to me and says, ’Grandma, sit, read!’” He shows me pictures and sometimes we all go outside and play.”
The program is always looking for donations, Young said.
It recently received $500 from the Tucumcari Elks Lodge, which will help defray expenses for in-service training.