Foster grandparents get ready for coming school year

Lance Neal, of Pocatello, listens at a workshop led by Director Lori Murdock on how to deal with different kinds of behavior within the classroom during a Foster Grandparents of Southeast Idaho training session Tuesday at White Pine Charter School. The day featured three separate groups that rotated through workshops. The local chapter of Foster Grandparents of Southeast Idaho started in 1973. Pat Sutphin /

Director Lori Murdock leads a workshop on how to deal with different kinds of classroom behavior during a Foster Grandparents of Southeast Idaho training session Tuesday at White Pine Charter School. To become a foster grandparent, applicants must older than 55, meet certain financial requirements, pass a background check and be able to volunteer at least 15 hours a week. This year, 75 volunteers are placed in 43 different locations within 10 counties. Pat Sutphin /

As the new school year draws close, kids around eastern Idaho are getting ready — and so are dozens of local foster grandmas and grandpas.

“I really enjoy just being around the kids,” said 55-year-old Grandpa Keith Glenn of Blackfoot. “I enjoy helping them out with lessons and keeping them on course.”

Glen is among about 75 seniors who are part of the Foster Grandparents of Southeast Idaho. The nonprofit volunteer program places foster grandparents in 43 schools and programs in 10 counties throughout the region. Several Idaho Falls School District 91 and Bonneville Joint School District 93 elementary schools take part in the program.

About 50 grandparents gathered Tuesday at White Pine Charter School in Idaho Falls for an all-day training session, in preparation for the new school year.

“They’re getting antsy to go back to school,” Director Lori Murdock said Tuesday. “A lot of them are so glad school is starting.’”

The local program began 41 years ago. It’s part of the national Foster Grandparent Program, which was started in 1965 by Congress as a way to help lower-income older adults receive benefits while serving children with special needs. Nationwide, about 31,000 seniors are involved with the program.

Foster grandparents must meet certain requirements. Applicants must be over 55, earn less than $22,930 a year as a single person, pass a background check and be able to volunteer at least 15 hours a week.

While technically volunteers, they receive a small stipend — at least $170 per month — for their time. Federal grant money covers the stipends, but the real benefit isn’t financial.

“As a grandparent, you feel needed and you realize you’re needed,” Murdock said. “A lot of times, when their kids are gone, they feel kind of like they don’t have a lot of purpose left. But they have so much to give; all those years of experience and all that compassion, and they get that appreciation. It’s really good for the soul.”

Volunteer grandparents help children read, assist with classwork and, most importantly, share their warmth, wisdom and affinity for hugs. That benefits the children, too, Murdock said. Some have parents in jail or parents who’ve died. Some come from a home with a broken family structure.

“The grandparent is really more of a friend and a confident to them,” Murdock said. “For the kids, the greatest thing they get is self-esteem, improvement in their school work and having that extra reassurance. Also, just having that friend who helps them through issues with friends or issues at home.”

Murdock said the program needs more volunteers. And the best volunteers are those who simply enjoy kids.

“It gives me something to do, a reason to wake up in the morning,” said Velma Butler, a 79-year-old Blackfoot-based volunteer. “Otherwise, I’d sit at home and watch TV. Sometimes, I think it helps us more than the kids.”

To get involved, contact Murdock at 785-8454.

Reporter Kirsten Johnson can be reached at 542-6757.