By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
No grandchildren? No problem. If you lack grandchildren, or yours live too far away to visit often, you can get your “kid fix” through any of the many local opportunities to help children. In addition to benefiting the children, you’ll receive the satisfaction of giving back to your community’s youngest residents.
Patricia Company, director of Catholic Charities of Onondaga County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), said her organization primarily focuses on senior-to-senior volunteering. But RSVP does offer an intergenerational pen pal program that pairs youngsters with mature adults. The adult mentors can help youngsters improve their punctuation, penmanship, composition and other writing skills.
“It fits with Common Core literacy,” Company said. “The teacher may do some correction before it’s sent.”
She said about 24 to 30 students in fifth grade correspond with seniors in the program who write about a page or page and a half about their interests and things the child enjoys. Volunteering as a pen pal works well for seniors who lack transportation or mobility. They can mail their letters to RSVP or a RSVP representative will pick them up.
“The kids enjoy it and the seniors really enjoy it, too,” Company said.
Want something more hands-on? Syracuse OSASIS facilitates an intergenerational tutoring program.
Tracie Alexander, program and volunteer manager, said that the interaction with the younger children is definitely beneficial.
“It’s almost like a grandparent and grandchild relationship they develop,” Alexander said. “It gives volunteers a greater sense of purpose following their retirement from a lifelong career.”
Lori Wood, a volunteer at a Central Square School and a board of education member, said that she looks forward to the time she spends tutoring children.
“I love hearing their little voices, their funny expressions and I love cheering them on when they do a great job,” Wood said. “Going to Mrs. Foster’s class is the highlight of my week.”
At the Foster Grandparent Program with PEACE, Inc., in Syracuse, people 55 and older are paired with children who could benefit from one-on-one time. The federally funded, national service program pairs qualified lower income volunteers with children in local elementary schools, day care centers and Head Start programs to meet weekly. Helping children with special needs in a school setting can provide “guidance, support and friendship to overcome obstacles they’re facing,” said Beth O’Hara program director.
She added that both parties — children and volunteers — benefit in quality of life, mental health and socially. The interaction could involve organized play, reading, arts and crafts, or tutoring.
“If someone can sit with them and gently nudge them to pay attention, listen, keep their hands to themselves and behave appropriately, that can help foster better behavior,” O’Hara said.
Volunteers receive a non-taxable stipend of $2,800 that won’t offset Social Security or any benefits they receive. That amounts to about $2.60 an hour for the amount of time volunteers participate, which can help them cover transportation and other costs involved with volunteering.
O’Hara surveys the volunteers annually. She said that they like having a good reason for getting out of the house and feeling they’re giving back to their community’s smallest members.
For more ideas on how to help children, try these ideas:
• Ask at your place of worship. Many clergy want more volunteers to help lead children’s classes or programs.
• Reach out to your local library branch about any opportunities.
• Apply with Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital at www.upstate.edu/volunteers/adult-downtown.php.
• Contact Onondaga County Parks for general volunteer opportunities. Children frequent many of the venues in the parks system, such as the Rosamond Gifford Zoo and Beaver Lake Nature Center. Visit www.onondagacountyparks.com/about/jobs-and-volunteers.