On June 14, 2019, the Foster Grandparent Program held its annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn, Southpointe. Almost 200 people attended the event, where 100 Foster Grandparent volunteers were honored for their service and dedication to their communities.
Melissa Sipusic of UnitedHealthcare emceed the luncheon while volunteers, guests, and staff enjoyed the afternoon with a 50’s flair full of delicious diner-style appetizers and root beer floats, a photo booth, and prizes. Six Foster Grandparents were recognized for milestone years of service: Geraldine Fleming (5 years), Janice Taylor (10 years), Barbara Gans (15 years), Lucile Brown, Mary Ann Carlock, and Lexie McLeod (20 years).
Winners of the Senior Corps Legacy Award were selected based on years of service outside of milestone years, testimonials from their stations, and contributions to the Program as a whole that made each winner stand out in different ways. One winner, Lucile Brown, received the award based on her years of service to one station, Gwen’s Montessori School, at the age of 95 years young. Margaret Cox goes above and beyond and developed an art gallery at her station, Blueprints Washington Park Pre-K. Hazel Lewis serves at two different stations in Washington County for average of 35 hours a week and has made a great impact on her students, including one who made a surprise appearance at the event. Lillian Rainey has put children first for 23 years; her most recent teacher at Weil Pre-K in Pittsburgh, Rebecca Habay, questioned why she did not have a Foster Grandparent in her classroom sooner.
Mary Clark, who has been a Foster Grandparent since 2006, was the last winner of the Legacy Award based on her love of helping children to be the best that they could be and her devotion to growing the Program by recruiting new volunteers. To this day, Mary has a drawer in her home filled with keepsakes from the hundreds of children between the ages of 3 and 5 that she has mentored.
“I really think it’s important to empathize with each child that I would mentor. Many of them are dealing with difficult situations at an early age and sometimes they would act out,” Mary stated. “I always say the kids are just busy—not bad. Once a child hears that an adult thinks that they are bad, that’s all they will start to think of themselves.”
Mary is also part of the first multigenerational pair of volunteers in the history of the Foster Grandparent Program of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Her daughter, Leila Clark, who recently completed her orientation to become a Foster Grandparent, was inspired to join the Program after seeing her mom volunteer for so many years. “Children are the future. Nothing but good comes out of doing this,” said Leila.
Rep. Conor Lamb spoke about the dedication and hard work it takes to be a mentor and his admiration of the volunteers who are committed to the children they serve. As a mentor himself, Lamb understands the personal investment of these volunteers. Following his speech, Lamb presented Foster Grandparents who have 15 or more years of service with Proclamations from the United States House of Representatives, honoring 12 women who have been part of the Program for a combined 226 years.
The ceremony ended with the presentation of the Director’s Award, given annually to three Foster Grandparents who are nominated by their stations for their exceptional skills, love, and efforts of dedication. This year’s winners were Elizabeth Anderson of Urban Academy Charter School in Allegheny County, nominated by her teacher Cicely Hanner; Emma Fraley of Ringgold Elementary School South in Washington County, nominated by Janice Zurenski; and Hazel Lewis of Blueprints Canonsburg Head Start, Washington County, nominated by Sarah Wessel.
The Foster Grandparent Program, a federal program funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, was founded in 1965 to provide individuals age 55 and older with the opportunity to serve their community through one-on-one mentoring to children who are at-risk or have special needs. The program is locally sponsored by Wesley Family Services and serves Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, and Washington Counties. If you are interested in becoming involved with the Program, call Rebecca Maletto-Cornell at 412-660-6841.