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April 15, 2012

Grandparents give back in the classroom

Foster Grandparent Program keeps these volunteers happy

DUNCAN — The bond between grandparent and grandchild is sacred and special, something to be treasured. And it’s also very special that the Foster Grandparent Program in Stephens County helps provide elementary classrooms with some of that sparkle.

There are a total of 12 foster grandparent volunteers in Duncan and one placed in Comanche.

These volunteers are 55 or older and all are retired.

That creates the free time needed for the volunteers to be implemented in classrooms, where they tutor and mentor the young students.

In a way, the foster grandparents are the wisdom givers, who pass along their lifetime of knowledge to upcoming generations.

One Duncan volunteer grandparent is Gena Turkett, who is placed in Janis Arrington’s first grade classroom at Horace Mann Elementary.

After staying home for a year after retirement, Turkett became bored and felt she should be doing something. She called Delta Community Action, which provides the majority of the funding for the program, and inquired about Foster Grandparents.

Once Turkett began in August, she knew she had done the right thing.

“I’m where I feel I should be,” Turkett said. “I love the kids and I love my teacher.”

According to Mynan Hutto, director of the Foster Grandparent Program, Turkett is a team player who always has a smile on her face and is dedicated to the children.

“If I had one word to describe Gena it would be ‘loyal,’” said Hutto. “She feels the kids need her and she doesn’t want to let them down.”

While in the classroom, Turkett listens to the children read and reads to them, among other things. She is also a major asset to Arrington, who raves about the volunteer being a treasure in her classroom.

“She is that extra set of ears and she will redirect (the students’) attention to the lesson if they get distracted,” said Arrington. “She has a compassion for working with children and a heart for children.”

Arrington has had a foster grandparent in her class for the past 10 years.

Not only does the volunteer help the students academically, but they assist in guiding the youngsters emotionally and socially.

Some children don’t have grandparents or aren’t around them, which makes individuals like Turkett invaluable.

“She is a role model for what every child could possibly want in a grandmother,” said Arrington. “It is also teaching them social skills of how to treat the elderly.”

Not having a foster grandparent in the classroom is something Arrington would rather not consider or experience — she doesn’t know what she would do without volunteers like Turkett.

After seeing what Turkett is doing in the classroom, Mann Principal Janice Gay told Arrington that every classroom needs a foster grandparent.

Unfortunately, due to constant budget cuts and the threat of losing the program completely, there isn’t enough money to provide a mentor for each classroom. The volume of volunteers exists, but the funding is speculative at best.

Although the grandparents are volunteers, they do receive mileage reimbursements and about $2.65 an hour.

Hutto said in actuality, these volunteers are worth $17.50 an hour and they do a lot of good. Therefore, she and many others are lobbying to convince the government the program not only helps the schools but also can save taxpayers’ money.

“It’s a no-brainer that the program should continue,” she said.

“We would love to give each teacher a grandparent.”

Foster Grandparent volunteers across six counties in Oklahoma were recognized at a luncheon Friday.

It’s an annual event that gives back to those who give so much in shaping the generations to come.

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