By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
In order to help preserve the culture of intergenerational relationships and increase cultural awareness, the Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) helps build connections between kids and the elderly.
According to the Serve Washington website, the FGP began in 1965 and provides loving and experienced tutors and mentors to children and youth with special needs. There is currently only one FGP in Washington state.
Adelheid Arbogast, coordinating director of FGP of Homage Senior Services, compared FGP to the mentoring program that Big Brothers Big Sisters provides, but instead of meeting at people’s homes, the volunteers meet at schools and daycares. The program is funded by a federal grant through Homage Senior Services, an organization that promotes independence, preserves dignity, and enhances the quality of life for older adults and people with disabilities.
There are several Chinese-speaking volunteers who provide support to the kids.
“Our American culture is slowly losing that multigenerational family situation, so we love that we can introduce this to schools, programs, and daycares to have volunteers be there with the kids. Infants and toddlers have a lot of emotion and they need that extra attention,” Arbogast explained.
She said that most of their Chinese volunteers work in the infant and toddler centers to help with supervision and play time. The staff also benefits from the program because the foster grandparents can act as an extra set of hands and eyes to care for the kids.
“They’re there to help, but also to give attention and care, as well as provide international and intergenerational experience that a lot of kids may not have access to,” Arbogast said.
Volunteering with FGP
Currently, there are about 30 volunteers in King and Snohomish counties. Staff provides two hours of training each month. Homage Senior Services is actively seeking volunteers to help with the program.
Volunteers must be 55 or older and in the low-income bracket. They must commit to eight hours or more a week, and they can work at whichever center they prefer. They can also volunteer for up to 40 hours per week. They also earn a stipend of $2.65 an hour.
The great thing about the stipend is that they earn it for any time spent volunteering, including orientations, trainings, or monthly meetings, and the amount isn’t taxable, Arbogast said.
Arboghast also said that they hold recognition events twice a year to thank volunteers for their amazing work. In the past, they’ve hosted nice meals and given out gift cards and goody bags. The volunteers chose to go on an Argosy cruise to the Tillicum Village on Blake Island for their next event.
Homage Senior Services has 28 different programs and holds additional recognition events for volunteers for all programs.
The joy of working with kids
One of the volunteers, Guoju Li, 77, has been volunteering with the FGP for eight years.
Li came to the United States in 1999 from Guangzhou, China. She has a son who lives in Renton, as well as a daughter and grandson in California.
She currently lives by herself at a senior living facility, about 15 minutes away from Shoreline Community College, and volunteers four days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Volunteering with the kids, aged 2 to 3, is pure joy for Li.
“The kids are very cute and I do this for my own happiness, and the kids love it, too,” she said in Mandarin.
Because senior citizens don’t do much if they stay at home, Li finds a lot of happiness playing with the kids and she looks forward to spending time with them every week.
There is a foster grandparent for each group of around 10 kids. According to Li, there are five Chinese volunteers in the program, including one grandpa.
“It’s nice to get out of the house and volunteer with the kids. They’re very sweet and innocent and they get very excited when they see us, too,” she said.
In particular, the kids love reading the Elephant & Piggie books.
Li explained that she prefers volunteering to staying at home and watching TV all day. Being with the kids helps to lift her spirits and the kids also benefit from her presence. There’s a mutual exchange of happiness.
“It makes me very happy to see how excited the kids get when reading those stories,” Li said.
Li also said that the teachers and program staff are great to work with—they all respect the volunteers.
Li also explained that FGP staff conducts very thorough trainings for volunteers to teach cultural tips, how to talk to the kids, and other helpful advice when working with the kids.
In addition, the stipend has helped pay for some of Li’s travels, including a cruise to Alaska, as well as household items.
“It’s nice to receive some money, but we don’t do it for the money,” she said.
For more information on FGP or to volunteer, reach out to Adelheid Arbogast at 425-514-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.