Ohio’s first lady helps honor those who put others first

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ohio’s First Lady Frances Strickland helped celebrate the senior volunteers of Lawrence, Scioto, Jackson and Meigs counties Friday at the Lawrence County Early Childhood Center in South Point.

The annual recognition ceremony honored each senior volunteer involved in the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development’s Foster Grandparent program and Senior Companion program, with special attention to those reaching milestones of 1 year, 5 years and 10 years of service.

The foster grandparents are placed in kindergarten, first, second and third grade classes and help students who are having trouble in some areas.

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“The foster grandparents are important because school budgets have been slashed and teachers need all the resources they can get to help the kids,” said Gary Goosman, senior programs director of COAD. “A lot of kids have disabilities or come in not academically prepared for the school, and they will go off with them one on one and help them get up to speed.”

The senior companions go into the homes of elderly people who need a little assistance to stay living in their own homes. Goosman said they assist with things like laundry or meals or just spending time with them.

“Ninety-five percent of people, if you ask them, when they’re older do they want to go to a nursing home or stay in their own home, they’re going to want to stay in their home. So these volunteers help them do that,” Goosman said.

Goosman said a lot of the volunteers have said without the program, they would be at home watching television.

“All the research shows this improves their mental health and improves their physical health,” he said. “They have a better outlook and live longer. At 75 or 80 years old, running around with a bunch of second graders can keep you young and tire you out.”

Strickland said these kinds of programs are essential.

“There are some things people need that you can’t take care of with money. You can only take care of it with people who really care. So if you are going to be a foster grandparent, or be visiting people who are shut in or homebound, you go there because you really care about them.

“It’s not about money, but about people wanting to help people. These programs are appreciated, because that’s what keeps kids really believing that somebody cares, and older people knowing somebody cares,” Strickland said.

Strickland said there is something we can learn from the volunteers.

“Within all of us, there is a desire to always be useful and helpful,” Strickland said. “There are plenty of ways. All you have to do is let somebody know you’ve got something to give, and there are programs that will find many avenues for you to give. That’s what keeps a lot of people vibrant and feeling like life has a real purpose for them, even when they’re beginning to lose some of their zest and vigor from their younger days. There are still many, many wonderful ways they can contribute, regardless of their age.”

In a crowd of more than 50 volunteers and some family members and special guests, Strickland played her guitar and led the participating crowd in “You are my Sunshine,” “Hey Goodlookin’” and “Goodnight Irene.” Kara Penley and Karen Chaffin of Southern Ohio Medical Center helped lead the singing.

Strickland said this is one of her favorite places to visit because she loves to play and sing with the volunteers.

Ohio Sen. John Carey was also there to honor the volunteers.

Mary Thompson, 76, of Ironton, has been a foster grandparent at Ironton Elementary for a year.

“I love it. It keeps your mind working,” Thompson said. “I get too attached and then I go home and worry about them.”

Linda Black, the COAD coordinator for the Lawrence, Scioto, Meigs and Jackson counties for 15 years, echoed what Thompson said about becoming attached to the children.

“Yes, there is such a bond that takes place in the foster grandparents program,” Black said.

Betty Wilcox, 83, was recognized for 15 years of service on Friday. She said she is thankful for the program for what it does for her and for the children.

“It gives me something to look forward to each day and gets me out of the house,” Wilcox said. “A lot of those little children need love, and when they run in the room and give you a hug, and yell, ‘Grandma, grandma!’ that makes your day.”

When asked how long she plans to keep volunteering, Wilcox answered, “As long as I can. As long as I’ve got strength in my body.”