As Peggy Bethel was doing her weekly grocery shopping, a child raced up to her and called out, “Hi Grandma!” As it turns out, the child was with her actual grandmother, so the woman said, “That’s not your grandma. I am.” The reality is that since 2008 Peggy has been a Grandma to all of the children attending Hyatt Park Elementary. This kind and loving woman is a volunteer for the Foster Grandparent Program.
The Corporation for National and Community Service funds this successful intergenerational program. In addition, the Junior League of Columbia and the SC Cable Television Association support the program with grant funding. Locally, Senior Resources is the organization that recruits, trains and places these volunteers (55 years old and older) into local schools, day cares and Head Starts.
Volunteers like Peggy provide one-on-one mentoring, tutoring, and support. These individuals become role models and friends to children at risk or with special needs. Last year 93 Foster Grandparents provided 77,589 hours to approximately 806 children at 31 locations in Richland School Districts 2 and 3 and Lexington School District 4.
To qualify for the program, volunteers must meet income guidelines (200% of the federal poverty level) so they can receive mileage reimbursement and a small tax-free stipend for the hours they work. In addition they must undergo three background checks, a physical exam, and an interview. Douglas Bates, the Director of Foster Grandparent Program at Senior Resources explained, “If individuals qualify and there is adequate funding, they must participate in a rigorous weeklong orientation before getting started.”
Peggy’s life has been devoted to caregiving. This is her passion and greatest gift. She spent 26 years at Palmetto Baptist caring for patients. Then in 2002 she retired to care for her aging mother. The Foster Grandparent Program was the next natural step since she loves children and knew she could make a difference. She was delighted to be placed at Hyatt Park Elementary. She had grown up in the neighborhood and her daughter went to school there forty years before. It was the perfect place for Peggy to volunteer!
“I have enjoyed my work at Hyatt Park right from the start. I know I help at least one child every day. I did, however, do one thing wrong my first day,” she chuckled. “I brought a bag of candy in my pocket. And to this day, I always bring treats and share them with the children.”
This past school year, Peggy was teamed up with first grade teacher LaQuisha Chester. Four days a week she helped in her classroom. In addition, she spent plenty of one-on-one time with a small group of students in the class who had been identified as having the greatest need for academic and behavioral support.
“I loved taking these babies under my wing. All kids can learn if you give them the opportunity and a place where they don’t have to worry about what is going on at home,” she explained. “Their progress over the year was amazing.”
After more than six years at Hyatt Park, Peggy is a beloved fixture at the school. On a regular basis, students drop by her classroom to visit their “Grandma.” She always greets them with a smile and kind words. “The children bring me so much joy,” shares Peggy. “And the best part is I leave school every day laughing.”
Senior Resources coordinates services, provides resources and encourages the personal choices that allow Midlands-area senior citizens to remain independent. The organization touches the lives of more than 4,000 Midlands residents each year. For more information visit www.seniorresourcesinc.org or call 803-252-7734.
Photos by Kimberly Campbell