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Beacon Senior News

Love like a grandparent: Volunteer opportunities with children abound

Sep 01, 2018 12:15AM ● By Jan Weeks

CASA staff and volunteers.

Empty nest and time on your hands? Retired and tired of golf? Do you like kids and want to help them succeed? There are many organizations in Mesa County that rely on volunteers who have the time and willingness to make a commitment to working with children in many different milieus.

Schools need help

If you live near an elementary school or perhaps have a grandchild attending one, you can volunteer to tutor students in reading or math (no degree required) to bring them up to grade level. It’s as simple as walking into the school office and asking if any of the teachers need help, according to Robert Wilson, 85, who has been tutoring students in reading skills for eight years. He began when the Chamber of Commerce had the 500 Club, in which businesses gave employees an hour off each week to read to kids after school.

“I felt I was more of a babysitter,” Wilson said. “Then a friend at church told me about a teacher at Orchard Avenue Elementary who was in dire need of someone to work one on one with a child who was having trouble reading.”

He’s been volunteering three days a week ever since.

Foster Grandparents is another way volunteers 55 and older can interact with children in school.

This federal program has been active in Mesa County for 45 years. Volunteers work with elementary age students or adolescents in one or several  classrooms under the supervision of a teacher. Volunteers may tutor kids in school subjects, help them develop social and relationship skills as well as fine motor and personal skills, such as tying shoes and washing hands.

All of the above volunteer positions require some sort of background check in order to work one on one with underage children. Some volunteers may be eligible for a taxfree stipend.

“If volunteers are at 200 percent of the poverty level, they’re eligible for a tax-free stipend of $2.65 per hour, as well as other benefits,” said Program Coordinator Tanya Fink. “However, seniors of any income level are encouraged to join the program.”

Speak up for kids

Another organization in need of more volunteers is Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

“Volunteers don’t need any background in law or social work,” said Janet Rowland, CASA’s former director. “They meet with children, parents and social workers to discuss options. They have to be able to say, ‘I don’t think this course of action is the best decision for the child’ even if their decision might not be popular.”

CASA staff and volunteers show off their paintings at The Palette.

Some may be nervous about speaking in court, but Rowland said most of the work is done via interviews. Then that information is compiled into written reports that are submitted to the court. When the parties finally stand up in front of the judge, the judge simply asks if there is any further information.

“It really isn’t like ‘Perry Mason’ or other court TV shows,” Rowland said.

Training to be a CASA volunteer entails 30 hours of instruction: 15 hours in a classroom and 15 hours online. After training, volunteers meet with their assigned child at least once a month—perhaps more depending on circumstances.

After five years as CASA’s director, Rowland recently moved on to another position as national director for Denver-based nonprofit Project 1.27 at the end of July.

Be a role model

Small children aren’t the only ones who need people willing to help them. Foster Alumni Mentors work with foster children who have aged out of the system. According to founder and executive director Kim Raff, many times foster kids reach the age of 18 without ever having been taught to balance a checkbook, apply to rent an apartment, shop for groceries, or even cook.

“Many people think ‘foster child’ equals ‘delinquent,’” said Raff, a former foster child herself.

Retirees can help children succeed by volunteering.

Retirees can help children succeed by volunteering with School District 51, Foster Grandparents, CASA, Foster Alumni Mentors and Partners.

Raff started the program just over a year ago, relying on donations and volunteers. Even though she doesn’t get a salary, she said it’s worth it.

The foster system works with a lot of runaways, and Raff’s organization coordinates with other local agencies, such as the school district and Department of Human Services, to locate and support foster children who have aged out of care. Raff said she hopes it becomes a national organization someday.

Partners is a nonprofit mentoring organization that has served the area for 40 years. Volunteers work with kids age 7-17 years old, who often come from single-parent homes or homes where abuse, neglect and drug or alcohol use keep them from realizing their potential. Adult mentors fill that gap.

According to Mentor Program Manager Blake Ammon, children are referred to Partners by any professional agency, such as Department of Human Services and School District 51.

“Most are good kids,” he said. “They’re mostly dealing with life situations rather than being in trouble with the law.”

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and willing to commit to working with a junior partner at least three hours a week for a year.

“You’re basically being the support system they don’t have at home,” Ammon said. “Senior partners just do the stuff they’d do anyway—like shopping or bowling— and include the kids.”

Mentors also get to choose which child they’re partnered with, based on shared interests, and can work according to their schedules.

There are hundreds of children out there just waiting for someone to help them navigate life’s challenges. With an open heart and time on your hands, you could be that someone.

Spend some time with these whiz kids

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Foster Grandparents 298-9091 2530 N. 8th St., Suite 102, Grand Junction


CASA 242-4191 360 Grand Ave., Suite 201, Grand Junction


School District 51 254-5100[/bscolumns][bscolumns class="one_half_last_clear"]

Foster Alumni Mentors 234-3519 750 Main St., Unit 105, Grand Junction


Partners 245-5555 1169 Colorado Ave., Grand Junction

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