STEUBENVILLE – The Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development is working with AmeriCorps Seniors to expand opportunities for seniors in Columbiana County.

COAD has hosted the Foster Grandparent Program since 1971. Today, the program run by AmeriCorps Seniors brightens the lives of 280,000 children nationwide.

The Columbiana County Foster Grandparent Program is looking for volunteers to mentor children in Head Start Columbiana County classrooms. The volunteers would work with children as young as birth to three years old.

“They work one-on-one with children who have learning difficulties,” said COAD coordinator Kirk Guisti. “They focus on helping them develop to the best of their abilities.”

“Not a day goes by that I walk into this classroom without being hugged.” East Liverpool volunteer Greta Carter said.

The challenges associated with Covid are currently preventing the expansion of the Foster Grandparent program into local schools.

The Columbiana County Adoptive Grandparents Program seeks to recruit volunteers age 55 and older who earn $26,000 or less per year.

Volunteers earn a $3 hourly stipend and a travel reimbursement of 20 cents per mile. The stipend does not affect income from government benefits and volunteers can work between 15 and 40 hours per week.

“They are able to provide much needed community support and it costs them nothing,” Guisti said.

Carter gets up in the morning for the children she sees and the comfort she brings.

“I like to be a positive figure in their life,” she said. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life”

Volunteers are assigned one of nine Head Start facilities in Columbiana County. Columbiana County locations are in Salem, Columbiana, East Palestine, Salineville, East Liverpool, and Lisbon.

Training is provided monthly by COAD upon completion of background checks and a medical release. The training introduces the volunteers to the methods used to interact with children with learning difficulties. The training also covers security standards, confidentiality and general paperwork.

Guisti believes the program connects generations by setting an example to follow. The availability of additional supports also strengthens the relationship between teachers, volunteers and classrooms.

“Our volunteers are also someone they know they can go to,” Guisti said.

The program improves the experience for everyone involved, even Guisti. Guisti has volunteers in their 80s and 90s who have found a passion they love while improving their health.

“It’s amazing how much energy they have,” he said. “Many came from the doctor who smiled at me and told me their blood pressure was down,”

COAD does not require vaccinations, but guidelines set by Head Start require participants to be vaccinated. Volunteers who are not feeling well are encouraged to stay home.

“We never tell anyone, ‘You have to go to the site today,'” Guisti explained.

Volunteers serving as foster grandparents earn paid time off and time off. Some volunteer sites offer the opportunity to help prepare classroom materials, take-out meals and learning kits. These options keep Covid safety protocols in mind.

According to Guisti, foster grandparents provide an outlet for participants to develop their personal growth and expand their capacity to share love and compassion.

“We are a perfect program to do that,” he said.

Carter said the program gives what she sees as positive challenges. As a retired pediatric nurse, Carter’s love of children and love and comfort are etched in her character.

“I look forward to getting up every day, going to school, seeing my babies and being cuddled,” She said.

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