Foster Grandparent Program honors volunteers at annual luncheon

Front: Lillian Rainey, Margaret Cox, Mary Clark, Lucile Brown
Back: Noelle Malstrom, FGP Director Rebecca Maletto-Cornell, Hazel Lewis, FGP Coordinator, Shelby Parisse, FGP Assistant Lauren Balot, Platoria Featherstone, WFS Director Community, Programs and Support Julie Cawoski and Iris Glunt

The Foster Grandparent Program held its annual Volunteer Recognition Luncheon in June at the Hilton Garden Inn in Southpointe. Nearly 200 people attended the event, which recognized 100 Foster Grandparent volunteers for their service and dedication to their communities.

Melissa Sipusic of United Healthcare emceed the luncheon while volunteers, guests and staff enjoyed the 1950s-themed afternoon, which included diner-style appetizers and root beer floats, a photo booth and prizes.

Six Foster Grandparents were recognized for milestone years of service: Geraldine Fleming (five years), Janice Taylor (10 years), Barbara Gans (15 years), and 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.

Proclamation Photo – those who have served 15+ years. Seated: Lexie McLeod, Lucile Brown, Audrey Harris, Mary Ann Carlock. First row: Jaqueline Price, Annette Durant, Barbara Gans, Margaret Cox, Lillian Rainey, Mary Thompkins, FGP Coordinator Shelby Parisse, FGP Assistant Lauren Balot. Back row: Anna Burch, FGP Director Rebecca Maletto-Cornell, State Rep Conor Lamb

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 three and five that she has mentored.

“I really think it’s important to empathize with each child that I would mentor,” Mary stated. “Many of them are dealing with difficult situations at an early age and sometimes they would act out. I always say the kids are just busy—not bad. Once a child hears that an adult thinks 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,” Leia commented. “Nothing but good comes out of doing this.”

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 are 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.

To inquire about becoming involved with the program, call Rebecca Maletto-Cornell at (412) 660-6841.