Program provides foster grandparents, companions for seniors - Catholic Courier

Program provides foster grandparents, companions for seniors

ROCHESTER — Liza Gutiérrez knows the value of giving and receiving when it comes to the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion program.

The 64-year-old Puerto Rican native suffered a serious health blow and said that she does not know how she would have emotionally or physically endured and survived it without Alicia Rabedo of Cuba, who served as her companion. Both women attended an appreciation picnic held at Charlotte Beach on Sept. 11 for the seniors involved in the program, which is operated by The Community Place of Greater Rochester. The Community Place provides developmental and social programs as well as family emergency housing and services to residents throughout the Rochester area.

The seniors were treated to breakfast, lunch, music and raffle prizes.

"She helped me so much," said Gutiérrez of Rabedo’s help during her seven months of recuperation. "She gave me energy. … She stayed with me every day."

Now, through the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion program, Gutiérrez is serving as a companion to a couple who are in their 90s and live in the same Gates apartment complex as she does. The program not only offers senior citizens new challenges but keeps them engaged in the community, Gutiérrez added.

"It doesn’t just keep you useful but also keeps you informed," she said.

The program has seen a surge in participation from the Latino community, said Katy Allen, director of The Community Place’s aging-services department. About 60 percent of the 160 participants — who are paid a small stipend — are Latinos.

The stipend is "a way for lower-income people to afford to volunteer," she said.

The companion component, which was created about eight years ago, is especially valuable to the Latino seniors it serves, Allen said. The foster-grandparent program was created about 30 years ago.

"It’s been really wonderful to provide services (to Latinos) in their own language," she added. "They weren’t as likely to call for help. Now they have someone who understands their language, understands their culture."

The foster grandparents work in child-care centers, preschools and elementary schools. A grandparent is matched with children following training and a criminal background check, Allen said.

The foster grandparent, whom the children call "Grandma" or "Grandpa," are assigned to a classroom where a teacher may identify one or two children for them to specifically work with, said Carmen Lourdes Carrucini, the program coordinator. The grandparent then may provide extra reading support or help a shy child with socialization or keep busy a child who is hyperactive, she added.

"They have a goal, something they can achieve by the end of the year," Carrucini said.

Aurora and Alberto Hernández of Rochester love the time they spend with toddlers and preschool children at the Metro YMCA on East Main Street.

Aurora Hernández said that she helps 2- and 3-year-old children with breakfast and lunch as well as plays with them and puts them down for naps. The 69-year-old native of Chile has been with the program for seven years.

"I like helping because we don’t have grandchildren at home," she said. "To improve children’s lives and stay busy is good for us."

Her husband, who is 71, works with preschool-age children — reading them books, taking them out on the playground, tying their shoes and walking them to their different activities.

"The program is really good for seniors," Alberto Hernández said. "It helps to get out us out of the house … and we learn a lot."

Referrals for the companion program come from social workers, case managers and such agencies as Eldersource, Catholic Family Center, Ibero-American Action League and the Veterans Administration.

"A lot of our referrals now are word of mouth," Allen noted.

Ida Pérez, coordinator of Ibero’s early childhood services, said that the foster grandparents play a vital role in the services the Ibero program provides. Each day, four seniors — two in the morning and two in the afternoon — work in each of the nine classrooms for children from 6 weeks old to kindergarten age, Pérez said.

"Abuelas (grandmas) sit in a rocking chair and rock that baby that is not feeling well or that child that needs to go to sleep or that baby that needs to be held just because," she added. "Having them here sets us apart from other programs."

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