Grandparents are a treasure but foster grandparents are a rarity. The Foster Grandparent Program nationally began in 1965 for low-income seniors to work with at-risk children in the community.  The program started 21 years ago in the Southeast Texas area. The Foster Grandparent Program is sponsored by the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission but is federally funded by the Cooperation for National and Community Service. 

In order to become a foster grandparent, one must be 55 years of age or older, must love children, be in good health, and volunteer four hours a day five days a week. An application must be filled out, references will be called, a background check and a sex-offender check will be done. Some schools require fingerprinting as well.  Any senior over 55 years of age can apply, but not everyone is suited for the job.

Each foster grandparent must go through a 40-hour pre-service training where they are taught what to expect and are screened to see which group of youngsters they would be better suited to help. Once in the program, each foster grandparent is given a small, tax-free stipend to help offset the costs of volunteering. This is not considered income and doesn’t not count towards anything one would report income on. 

The foster grandparents in this area serve in schools, Texas Youth Commission (TYC), Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility, Minnie Rogers Juvenile Probation, Memorial Hermann Behavioral Health Services for adolescents, Boys Haven and anywhere at-risk children are located. 

The grandparent program in Southeast Texas was the first one in the state to put foster grandparents with children in the juvenile correctional facilities. 

According to the Cooperation for National and Community Service’s website, foster grandparents can help children in many ways by offering emotional support to child victims of abuse and neglect; tutoring children with low literacy skills; mentoring troubled teenagers and young mothers’ and caring for premature infants and children with physical disabilities and severe illness.

Karen Gray, Volunteer Coordinator with the South East Texas Foster Grandparent Program, explained “We look for children that fall through the cracks.  We’ve had wonderful success in this area and currently have 108 foster grandparents.”

Of these 108 volunteers, 16 of them are in Orange. Of those 16 volunteers, four of them are new to the program. Steve Ramsy, William Voeltz, Carol Edwards and Linda Dumas. 

William Voeltz retired from property management of several pre-kindergarten schools between Florida to Tennessee. He moved to Orange from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. to take care of his mother-in-law, Lula Richard. Upon her passing, he found out that Lula had been a foster grandparent and was even foster grandparent of the year at least once. He looked into the program and decided to join. 

“I decided to get off my duff and do something with the rest of my life and make a difference,” he said. “Why should I sit around and just watch football or go fishing? Why don’t I give back to the community and try to help these kids out?” 

“Kids today are discouraged, they don’t have any outlook towards the future,” said Voeltz. “I think I can help kids, show them a the path to go down, give them some goals and try to help them,” Voeltz said. “I’ve been there and done a lot of stuff in my life, the good, the bad and the ugly. If I can help one kid, maybe that kid will pass that on to another,” he said. “I am excited about doing this.”

Voeltz spends his morning volunteering at the West Orange – Stark Elementary on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Orange. He has been assigned to Ms. Jill Hart’s Fifth Grade Class. 
Linda Dumas, a Bridge City native, now lives in Orange. She joined the program because she loves working with children. She started welcoming foster children into her house in 1993. “You have to love children to work with children,” she said.

“One reason I like this job is because I get to be grandma,” she explained. “I’m not the teacher, I’m not the babysitter, I’m not the counselor. I’m grandma.” 

“My goal is to be there for these children and guide them in a good direction,” Dumas said. “I want to put in as much as I possibly can to help with school work or anything they want to talk about. I want them to know I can care and that I am here for them.”

Dumas believes that the children are valuable and they will be the one’s running the country someday. “What we can instill in their lives is going to pay off,” she said.  “I want to try to help them from falling through the cracks.”

Dumas spends her afternoons volunteering with the 21st Century after school program at the West Orange – Stark Middle School on Green Ave. in Orange. 

Both Voeltz and Dumas agreed that the program and this community are in need of more volunteers. 

“Where are all the men? Make a sacrifice and make a contribution to the community,” Voeltz said. “They need a father-figure.” Men are a rare commodity in the foster grandparent program. 

Dumas added “It’s the right thing to do. If anyone loves children and loves working with children, they would be a good candidate for this. It would be rewarding to them.”

Gray explained that the program is in need of more men and volunteers in Port Arthur, Lumberton and Silsbee. 

For more information on the Foster Grandparent Program, please contact Karen Gray, Volunteer Coordinator, at 409-899-8444, ext 6441. Her office is located in the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission in Beaumont.

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers