Local seniors share knowledge, love with kids

Helena Rodriguez

Frances Aragon may not remember all the names of her foster grandchildren, but she loves them all the same.
“I forget names and faces, but I know it’s one of them when they call me ‘grandma,’’ said Aragon, who was referring, not to her own 12 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but to the kids at James Bickley Elementary, with whom she spends time each week.
Aragon is one of 24 foster grandparents in Curry County. At the age of 76, her years of wisdom, experience and nurturing presence are in heavy demand at Clovis Municipal Schools, where the requests for foster grandparents outnumber the available funds, according to Lucinda Bonney, coordinator for the Curry County Foster Grandparent and Retired Senior Volunteers program.
In Roosevelt County, the opposite is true for the Foster Grandparent Program in Portales, where program director, Judy Griego, has been trying to fill two open spots for weeks.
“Quite a few schools have been calling us for foster grandparents,” Griego said. “We’ve never really had a problem filling the slots because people seem to enjoy the job and working with the kids, but we do have a few openings now.”
Griego said principals are always asking for additional foster grandparents but said that, like Clovis, they are limited on funds.
“We’ve requested additional funding. They have not cut our funding, but they haven’t given us extra either,” Griego said.
Foster Grandparents is a nationwide program in which senior citizens ages 60 or older serve as mentors, tutors and adopted grandparents of sorts to youth with special needs.
According to Bonney, these could be children who have anything from low reading scores to coming from a family considered high-risk, perhaps because of parents with less than a high school education.
“We want these children to succeed,” Bonney said. “A lot of times they have different needs that keep them from succeeding.”
To qualify to be foster grandparents, senior citizens must be considered to be living at a poverty level. They are paid a stipend of $2.65 an hour in Clovis or $2.50 an hour in Portales for serving as an extra pair of hands in the classrooms. In Clovis, Foster Grandparents can be found at elementary and junior high schools, the Head Start program and Clovis Community College.
In Portales, they are assigned to all of the elementary schools, as well as at the Child Development Center at Eastern New Mexico University.
Foster grandparents help children with the three r’s, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.
“With foster grandparents in the classroom, we’re able to give more one on one to the students,” said Waverly Criswell, a third grade teacher at R.M. James Elementary in Portales, where Pearl Thomasson serves as a Foster Grandmother in her classroom.
“They think of Pearl as a grandmother-type person and treat her with respect. It gives her a part-time job, but at the same time it is not overwhelming, and it helps the teacher, too,” Criswell said.
Thomasson has spend a good part of her life working with children, once serving as a single houseparent at the Christian Children’s Home in Portales. She is going on her ninth year as a foster grandparent.
“I just love the kids and they need loving too,” Thomasson said. “I help them with reading, and if they need help with their morning work, I help them with that, too.”
“The stipend that I get paid also really helps me out. That is my play money,” said the 77-year-old foster grandmother.
According to Griego, many foster grandparents use their stipend money from the program to help pay for their medications.
In Clovis, Aragon has been a foster grandmother since 1990, first at Head Start and then with La Casita Elementary. She’s now at James Bickley, and has found it to be very rewarding.
“I’ve found that if you show them love instead of ‘well, you’re gonna do it,’ just giving them a honey here and a honey there, helps a lot,” Aragon said. “Some of them are quiet and you can’t get a word out of them, but just talking to them encourages them.”
Bonney reiterated that the focus of the program is for senior citizens to work one on one with children, however, they are never in a classroom without a teacher present.
She noted that the Curry County Foster Grandparent program began in 1982, as an offshoot to the Roosevelt County Foster Grandparent program, which began in 1979.
For more information, contact the Curry County Foster Grandparents program at 763-6009 or the Roosevelt County Foster Grandparents Program at 356-8577.