AmeriCorps Seniors Want You!
Last updated 7/16/2023 at 2:54pm | View PDF
AmeriCorps is looking for senior volunteers in the South Valley.
The AmeriCorps Seniors Program gives individuals aged 55 and up opportunities to become active and make a positive difference in their communities. Volunteers are those who are interested in working with children and adults with disabilities, and are able to serve at least 15 hours a week.
Locally, AmeriCorps Seniors is affiliated with the Central Valley Regional Center (CVRC).
"Both agencies have the same goals of meeting the needs of the community," explained Jean Martens, CVRC Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Programs Specialist. "CVRC focuses on those individuals who have, or are at risk of having a developmental disability. AmeriCorps Seniors was brought in as a way to increase individual attention, through volunteers, to the individuals CVRC serves."
CVRC also has a Senior Companion Program that is the same as the Foster Grandparent Program except for the ages of the individuals served and the types of activities they might be involved in.
"Foster Grandparents serve kiddos from pre-school until they turn 22," said Martens. "Their focus is more academic/social skills-related. At 22, when they've aged out of the school system and move on to a workshop/day program, then they can be matched up with a Senior Companion."
Activities then shift from academics to those that help develop vocational, independent living and social skills.
The local AmeriCorps Seniors program covers Kings and Tulare Counties.
"Most of our current volunteers serve either in Visalia or Porterville, with a few in Tulare, a couple in Springville, one in Terra Bella, one in Exeter, and one in Lindsay," said Martens.
A Typical Day
"A typical day for a Foster Grandparent (FG) volunteer would start by coming to school, checking into the office and going to their assigned student's class," said Martens. "The teacher helps the volunteer get acquainted with the classroom routine, the students and the programs for each assigned student.
"Depending on their individual student's needs, the volunteer may work with them on skills such as writing, reading, listening, following directions, getting along with others, communication, etc. A volunteer is usually found sitting next to their student during group time, ready to help redirect, stay focused, encourage them to participate, and model the task if needed. When students are at recess, the volunteer is welcome to either take a break or hang out on the playground. Being a presence on the playground opens the volunteer up to students campus-wide who might need some 'grandma' time too.
"A Senior Companions (SC) typical day depends on where they serve," Martens continued. "We have volunteers in a large day program, which differs from a small residential home, which is very different from the sub-acute medical facility. Like the FG volunteers, each SC volunteer helps their assigned individuals work toward specific goals.
"In general, an SC volunteer usually spends time with their individual going on walks, chatting, reading, listening to music, dancing, encouraging participation in activities, modeling positive social skills, or practicing life skills such as identifying correct change, making purchases, smart shopping, etc."
Martens made it clear that being a Foster Grandparent is not about being a babystitter.
"Each individual assigned to a volunteer has an Individual Education Plan for those under age 22, or an Individual Program Plan for those 22 and over. These plans are developed during annual meetings with the individual being served, their family members, CVRC case manager and teacher/site supervisor, etc. Progress on prior year goals are assessed and new goals are set for the coming year.
"Volunteers give their assigned individuals that extra one-on-one time and attention they wouldn't otherwise have to help them reach these goals by focusing on the smaller, day- to-day steps it takes to get there," said Martens. "Volunteers make their presence purposeful in other ways as well, such as modeling healthy social behaviors and boundaries, being available to listen, mentor and encourage, and being a consistent positive person in the lives of those they serve. This has a ripple effect to the other children in class and on the school campus, who gravitate to the 'grandmas' for some attention or a much needed pat on the back/high five or hug."
Reasons for Volunteering
Martens started with CVRC in 1990 as a case manager and has been working with the organization in some capacity ever since.
"I continue to do this because I believe in the program design, to create a win-win situation which benefits everyone involved – from our lower income seniors, the children and adults they serve, and the teachers and site supervisors who open their doors to us," she explained.
"More than that though, I keep doing this because it's an honor. Each of the volunteers is a testament to how much someone with so little can give so much when it comes from the heart. Each of them is a blessing to me, to the program and to the individuals they serve. I have come to feel very protective of my group and strive to do what I can to give as much to them as they give to others."
Cricket Walters has been with AmeriCorps for more than 13 years.
"A really good friend of mine was a Foster Grandparent and told me, 'You get paid for it!'" said Walters. "I didn't care about getting paid; I just wanted to do it."
Before working with AmeriCorps, she had been volunteering time as a foster grandparent at El Diamante School in Visalia. She had also been giving her time – for 22 years – to the Miracle League, an organization that runs a softball league for mentally or physically challenged children and adults eight weeks a year. She still works with them, saying with pride that, "We had 14 teams this year."
She enjoys being a Foster Grandparent and she likes those she works with.
"I think it's better than being a 'foster grandparent' in the school system, she explained. "You have a better chance to work with more people – with the adults who need it as well as the children who need it.
"They're wonderful people," she added. "They might have a disability, but they're supergreat."
Walters also enjoys how AmeriCorps keeps her busy.
"If I just stayed at home, I probably would have been dead by now," she said. "I have to be active all the time."
For more information about AmeriCorps, including the tax-free monthly stipend offered to qualifying individuals, call (559) 738-2207 or visit http://www.cvrc.org/senior-corps.