by Beth Leftwich
Hazel Harmon of Cornersville has more zest for life than a lot of people half her age and she credits the Foster Grandparent Program for her lively personality.
"I enjoy getting up every morning, it gives me something to look forward to," says the former beautician who had to retire early due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Mrs. Harmon volunteers anywhere from 4-7 hours per day with 4-6th graders at Cornersville Elementary School, assisting groups of students and sometimes individual students who may need a little extra attention to be sure they are getting their class work done, homework is packed, and even with simple things like listening, talking, reading to them or giving them a hug.
"After lunch I go to a certain grade and help one boy with his planner check," noted Mrs. Harmon, who added, "I'd give anything in the world if I could have been a teacher!"
The Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) was established by the South Central Human Resource Agency in 1965, to offer seniors aged 60 and over the chance to serve as mentors, tutors, and caregivers to children and youth, some of whom may have special needs.
"It's a little boost of self-esteem," commented Joan Berry, Recruiter for the FGP, based out of the SCHRA headquartered in Fayetteville.
"Hazel is just awesome!" stated Berry when describing several of the local volunteers, who she says are all very special and "have so much they give back to the lives of our young people and to the future of our nation by giving of their time."
The FGP serves non-profit organizations such as schools, hospitals, and daycares, and all volunteers must complete paperwork and a screening process before they are allowed to begin volunteering.
"It's a win-win program and a worthwhile benefit to the students, volunteer, teacher, and parent," explained Berry, who noted that the program serves 13 counties in south central Middle Tennessee.
There are currently four foster grandparents in Marshall County that are working at facilities and one on a waiting list. A non-profit must contact the FGP if they are interested in having a volunteer grandparent placed at their facility, and Mrs. Berry or Bobbie Cox, the Director of the program can assist with the details.
The FGP is an income-based program and the volunteer must commit to at least 20 hours per week. In return he/she will receive a modest tax-free stipend, one free meal a day at the job site, reimbursement for mileage to and from work and in-services, accident and liability insurance on the job, and one free annual physical examination.
"I had one great big boy come up to me recently, who must have been in the 12th grade and he told me, 'if it wasn't for you, I don't know where I'd be,'" beamed Mrs. Harmon, when asked about why she's enjoyed volunteering with the Foster Grandparent Program for the past seven years.
Even after raising three children and working most of her life, Mrs. Harmon, who calls herself a "foster granny" still doesn't want to slow down and will tell you very quickly that "the children keep me young, they keep me going!"
If you are interested in learning more about the Foster Grandparent Program and the opportunities for becoming a volunteer or obtaining a grandparent for your non-profit, please feel free to call Bobbi Cox or Joan Berry at 800-221-2642.