Keely Hinkel may have one of the best jobs in the region. Keely, Foster Grandparent Program Coordinator for Community Corrections Improvement Association (CCIA), connects seniors, ages 55 and more, who are willing to serve as grandparents to high-need children living in Johnson County.
In 2009, the Community Foundation of Johnson County awarded the Foster Grandparents program $10,000, which provided a local match to meet federal requirements. In Johnson County, seven active sites serve kids ages 0 to 11.
For the past six years the nationwide program, launched during the Kennedy administration, has served Johnson, Jones and Linn counties. The Foster Grandparent program is a sister of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), which is very active in Johnson County.
Keely, a former CCIA AmeriCorps volunteer, trains active grandparents who meet with children at Penn and Coralville Central Elementary schools, North Liberty Community Library, Iowa City and Coral Ridge Head Start, and Broadway and Pheasant Ridge Neighborhood Centers. Currently eight foster grandparents serve 40 Johnson County children.
Keely says she appreciates the Community Foundation's support. "Foster Grandparents is a win-win strategy. Kids have an opportunity to interact with mature adults and volunteer grandparents enjoy watching the children make progress."
Site supervisors echo praise for the program. Penn Elementary School Principal Julie Robertson says the four-year old Penn program improves the lives of her students. "The benefits are enormous. Foster Grandparents make it possible for more students to have one-on-one time with a caring adult. When our students stick with something difficult, their confidence grows. It's wonderful to watch our kids become more willing to try new challenges and develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments."
The program centers on daily, individual attention. Children's outcomes are based on ages and centered on communication skills and literacy outlined in materials and training each volunteer receives. School-age participants work in small groups with their foster grandparents to review areas they might struggle with.
Foster Grandparents are individuals, 55-years or older, who love working with children and are willing to work between 15 and 40 hours per week. In exchange for their service, volunteers receive monthly training;a small, tax-free, hourly stipend; transportation reimbursement; daily lunch; physical examination; and supplemental accident and liability insurance coverage while they serve. At the end of the year, volunteers receive an invitation to an annual recognition banquet.
Foster Grandparents must pass background checks and attend 20 hours of pre-service training. Visit www.iowacbc.org or more information.