WAGES foster grandparents sharpening classroom skills
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 26, 2005 2:00 AM
Hattie Manley of Goldsboro is back in school this summer. At 79, she is taking classes she believes will make her a better foster grandmother.
Mrs. Manley's spirit is typical of the people in the foster grandparent program run by WAGES. Energy is something they have in abundance.
After retiring as a nursing assistant, Mrs. Manley didn't want to become idle and decided that helping children would be the best way to give something of herself to the community.
As a child, she had to quit school early to help her mother at home. Later she raised her own family, so she knows more than a little about children.
That experience is what makes her a good foster grandparent, said Joyce Britt Halliwell of WAGES. Assigned to Edgewood Community Developmental School since last fall, Mrs. Manley has shown a special talent for being able to work with children who need extra attention and discipline, Mrs. Halliwell said.
"She's one of the best volunteers we have," said said. "She's priceless when it comes to children."
Mrs. Manley shrugs off the credit.
"I enjoy taking them out, playing with them and running around the track with them," she said.
WAGES currently has 102 volunteer foster grandparents across the county working with children with special needs. In the summer, WAGES offers the volunteers an opportunity to receive continuing education credit and enhance their skills as mentors.
Thirty-nine volunteers are taking advantage of the classes being held at Wayne Community College that began June 7. Spanish, computer and arts and crafts are offered on a rotation basis, for two and one-half weeks each.
Eva Crawford of Goldsboro has been a foster grandparent since November. Working with handicapped students at Edgewood has been rewarding, she says, so she looked forward to taking classes that might help her.
Upon arrival to the arts and crafts room, though, she found herself feeling skeptical.
"When I first came in here, I had to switch my attitude," she said. "I thought, 'Where's this going to lead me?' but then I began to think about the kids and it's gotten to be very, very fun."
She said her grandchildren laughed at first when she would come home with some of her completed projects. And now the one who once praised her children's offerings, is receiving some praise of her own.
"My son is proud of me," she said. "The instructor had us make some butterflies one day and I said, 'I'm gonna give you something Mama made at school.' He said he wanted another one."
To senior citizens returning to school as students, it can also be challenging to learn a new language or turn on a computer for the first time.
Milton Davis, assigned to Carver Heights Elementary, has been a Foster Grandparent since 2001. He took his first Spanish class last summer; he's currently enrolled in the computer class.
"I just love the whole thing," he says of the learning opportunity. "Every year is different. We learn more every year."
Nettie Green is new to the volunteer program, working at Chestnut street Head Start since May. She said she was a bit nervous at the prospect of taking a class.
"I know about three words in Spanish," she said, "but I'm looking forward to it."
Sadie McLauren has been a Foster Grandparent since 1997 and is assigned to the Family Y. Classmates Helen Johnson and Eunice Kennedy, both in their third year volunteering at Carver Heights Elementary, say that developing computer skills gets easier with time.
Helen Brown, a volunteer at Edgewood since 1994, agrees.
"I learned more this year than last year," she says during a break in the class. "But I still don't know what all the buttons are for."
Cleo Trigones, a Foster Grandparent for a decade, assigned to the Family Y preschool, puts the finishing touches on a personalized certificate.
"I have taken quite a bit of computer classes, but this new Microsoft technology is absolutely amazing," she said.
It is Joyce Carroll's first year in the program, working with students at Brogden Middle School, and her first time on a computer.
"I'm learning," she said. "I'm enjoying it."
Dorcas Patterson, a volunteer for 10 years, assigned to Herman Street Head Start, says this is her third summer taking the classes.
"I have learned more this year because we have the new computer program and it has more information and is easier to get into," she says.
But it doesn't stop there.
"My daughter is bringing me a computer from Baltimore because I'm taking this class," she said. "She told me she was going to set it up and everything."
Earthy Robinson, a volunteer at Carver Heights Elementary, says he did not take the computer class last year but has found it easier than he thought it would be. Still, he has not shared with his family that he is taking the class.
"They don't know yet," he said, "maybe next week sometime I'll tell them."
Mrs. Kennedy said she can't wait to share what she has learned with her students in the fall.
"It will come in good because with the children, you have to help them with the computer," she said.
Their instructor, Milton Richardson, said he has enjoyed playing a role in the seniors' education.
"It's important because we're becoming a computerized world and everyone needs to at least know the basic functions of a computer," he said. "They're all working in the school system. It just gives them an edge so they can relate to what's going on."
He said it has been rewarding to work with such receptive and anxious learners.
"I would like to see more people who have no experience on computers participating in a program like this," he said.
Volunteers for the Foster Grandparents Program are always needed, said Mrs. Halliwell.
Basic criteria for participants, she said, is that they must be at least 60 years old and meet income guidelines. Volunteers receive a small stipend to defray the cost of volunteering, and are given orientation and training before beginning an assignment.
To learn more about the program, call 580-2187.
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