NEW BRITAIN – Seniors – children in this city need your help.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Connecticut has put out an urgent call to people over age 55 living in Greater New Britain, to volunteer for its Foster Grandparent Program.
Now that doesn’t mean providing foster care in your home or even being an actual grandparent. It just means a willingness to serve five to 25 hours a week mentoring a child at one of two sites.
“Currently we have no program volunteers in New Britain,” said Jeannette Mendez, director of BBBS’ Foster Grandparent Program in CT. “We had at least two volunteers but then the pandemic happened and getting them back into it has been a little tricky.”
She’s trying to recruit people so the program can start back up in November at the Human Resources Agency of New Britain at 180 Clinton St. and the North-Oak Community Center at 35 Oak St. Depending on how many volunteers are interested, BBBS could open additional Foster Grandparent sites elsewhere in the city.
“Volunteers go in and assist teachers and kids with reading, math, art projects, playing, teaching the kids manners and helping teachers prep with any activities they have planned” Mendez said. “Just being there for support and guidance.”
Newington resident Estelle Rivera-Freeland is one of about 40 Foster Grandparents in the Greater Hartford region. She mentors a little girl named Yaniel at M.D Fox Elementary in Hartford.
In a hand-written letter Rivera-Freeland spoke highly of the program, especially how Mendez and fellow staff checked in on participants during the pandemic.
“They went beyond what was expected to meet the needs of grandparents,” she wrote. “They made wellness checks via phone and sometimes in person and put themselves at risk as well as their families…I especially know the organization has a big heart and a willingness to serve humankind… I can certainly witness you make a difference in my life, just knowing someone else cares other than my family.”
Currently, more than 85% of children taking part in the program are Latino, so staff are particularly interested in recruiting volunteers who share this ethnic heritage, although people of all races are welcomed.
Eligible senior mentors must be 55 and older, enjoy spending time with children and have an individual income of less than $27,180 per year, according to the organization’s requirements. (For households with more than one person, there are higher income limits.)
Program participants earn benefits for volunteering, including a tax-free stipend to offset the cost of their service, travel reimbursement, accident and liability insurance while serving, monthly in-service training, as well as annual recognition trip, picnic and luncheon events.
The program also gives them the opportunity to contribute to positive youth development, meet other seniors in the community and help teachers in the classroom.
For more information on how to volunteer, email Jeannette Mendez at email@example.com.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.