Pairing Children In Need With Someone To Love Foster Grandparents 'Add That Extra Tenderness'

December 13, 1990|By Jill L. Zarend | Jill L. Zarend,Staff writer

Septuagenarian Hallie Spencer rocks young Eddie Hartlobe, who is suspended from the ceiling in a hammock-like bed in a room of Marley Glen Special School in Glen Burnie. She smiles and coos to him, telling him what a good boy he is.

Down the hall in another room, Hattie Kisner, 83, adjusts pillows around Genevieve Cavella's fragile body. She rubs the 4-year-old's stomach to help the child relax and breathe a little easier. Genevieve has a rare brain ailment, lissencephaly, that affects her brain and physical development.

Outside in the hallway, Hazel Givens, 72, wheels 10-year-old Elizabeth Lewis to lunch. Following the meal, Hazel plays a game of patty-cake with the child. Elizabeth cracks a brief smile at her compassionate companion.

FOR THE RECORD - A caption accompanying yesterday's Senior story, "Pairing children in need with someone to love," misidentified one person.
The child in the top left photograph on Page 11 is Genevieve Cavella.
Also, the story, "AACC gives scholarship in Baker's name" incorrectly reported the cost of full-time tuition at Anne Arundel Community College for two semesters. Tuition is $42 per credit hour, or about $1,000 for two full-time semesters.
The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the errors.

The three women are volunteers in the county Department of Aging's Foster Grandparent Program, which is celebrating its 18th year. Nationwide, the program is 25 years old.

Other foster grandparents at the school include Thelma Wooden, 82, of Riviera Beach; Edith Oliver, 80, of Pasadena; and Rose Fear, 78, also of Pasadena.

Jones says the program has 54 foster volunteers -- and a waiting list.

Five men participate in the program. The youngest "grandparents" are in their 60s and the oldest is 91-year-old Queenie Foster of Severn.

Participants are low-income seniors over 60, who volunteer to help children with special needs. To become "grandparents" they're required to take a 40-hour orientation, with 20 hours' training at one of eight special-education and other sites. Included in the class is information on services offered by the Department of Aging. Volunteers also must have a physical examination to determine if they're able to participate.

Marley Glen Special, a school for multiply handicapped children and adults, has seven foster grandparents. The students, ages 3 to 21, learn functional academics and vocational training. Most suffer from degenerative diseases, says Adele Baron, principal at the school.

Foster grandparents visit sites in the county such as Sarah's House, a shelter for the homeless; centers for troubled youths, such as the Phoenix Centers in Annapolis; and every special education school in the county.

They also provide in-home respite care -- helping families to cope with their special children.

Five days a week, four hours each day, the grandparents visit the children, giving them love and attention. Jones says the volunteers rarely miss a day; no one quits, although some have retired or died.

An annual stipend of $2,295, which is not taxed or considered as income for determining government benefits, a free annual physical, paid vacation and sick days are some perks for volunteers.

Other benefits include rides to and from their foster care sites, hot meals and many fond memories.

Hattie Kisner hasn't missed a day since last April and even worked summer school at Marley Glen. She heard of the program while in the hospital following a hip replacement operation.

"The woman in the room said, 'You should be in the program. It would be good for you.' " recalls Kisner, who is dressed in her grandparent uniform, a pale blue smock with a name tag supplied by the county.

She went to Florida to recuperate from her operation, and on returning, gave Jones a call.

"I love working with the children," says the Riviera Beach resident. "I worry about them. I think about what they are doing when I don't see them on the weekend. It's good for me too. It gets me up and going each morning."

"It keeps them young and needed," chimes in Jones. "It keeps them from growing old fast."

Jones praises Kisner's work, adding that she has received awards for her volunteer efforts. She recently was nominated by the school as one of Anne Arundel County's Most Beautiful People. Kisner received a citation from the county executive for her efforts.

"I do only what the other women do," Kisner says, shying away from credit she believes is unwarranted.

Jones recalls the time that Kisner delayed a bus trip just to make sure a child was fed before they left.

"She does a lot of things for the children," says pre-school teacher Cari Beuerle, who has been working with Kisner for four years.

"She has a lot of intuition, with her experience. She really has good ideas," says Beuerle. "She reminds us to button up coats and give the kids their ear plugs when they go swimming."

"The foster grandparents have the luxury of sitting and holding them.

They can sit down and rock them. They have a certain rapport with the children; it's much more relaxed," adds Beuerle.

Hazel Givens, 72, can only say "beautiful" to sum up her feelings about the children and the program.

"I didn't realize how inspiring it was until I got into it," says Givens, a Riviera Beach resident who has been a grandparent for about 13 years. She was introduced to the program by another participant.

"When the children love me and give me a hug, that really makes my day," she says.

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