A unique service program sponsored by the United Ways of Iowa allows retired persons and children to connect within local schools, preschools and nonprofit day cares. The Foster Grandparents program, which has been in place for more than 50 years, is supported in 10 Iowa counties, including Story.

Kathy Jipson, United Ways of Iowa Foster Grandparent Program coordinator for Boone, Dallas, Marshall and Story counties, said the program fills a need for teachers and students within the local school districts.

“Teachers benefit because they have students who need extra help, and they don’t have time to give all the kids all the help they need,” she said. “Kids benefit from the one-on-one attention and extra help in areas where they struggle.”

There are federal guidelines that must be met in order to become a foster grandparent, including an age stipulation of 55 plus and a background check. Once accepted, foster grandparents receive training and are assigned a location in which to serve between 15 and 40 hours per week. Eligible participants receive a federal tax-free stipend for their participation.

Jipson said the foster grandparents she works with find great joy in their time with the kids. “I’ve had participants tell me, ‘I live for my time with these kids in the school,’” she said.

Foster grandparents do a variety of activities with the students, but it all takes place within the school or daycare to which they are assigned. Participants assigned to babies may spend a lot of time rocking and feeding them. Those who work with older children might play games with them, listen to them read, help them with a subject they find challenging or just simply listen when the child needs to talk.

The Nevada School District currently has two foster grandparents, with room for more. Kathy Marshall works at Central Elementary School and Joan Mayfield works at Nevada Head Start.

Jipson said that the word “foster” can cause some confusion regarding which children are eligible to take part. But the requirement for child participation is broad. It’s open to any child with an exceptional or special need. He or she could be hard of hearing, learning-disabled, have an emotional need or simply be having a hard time with something specific in school.

The program is a wonderful way to spend tax dollars because of the impact it makes on children, families and the foster grandparents themselves, according to Jipson.

“They (foster grandparents) really have an impact on children and it’s all good impact. Everybody benefits,” she said. “If the kid’s doing well, the family does better.”

For more information on the Foster Grandparent program, go to uwiowa.org/foster-grandparents.