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It's Never Too Late to Become a Grandparent

Become a foster grandparent and make an impact through love, support and service

By Atalaya Sergi

Grandparents are extraordinary people; there's no doubt about that. However, not everyone gets the chance to be a grandparent in the typical sense of the word. In her article, "I Will Never Be a Grandparent," Barbra Williams Cosentino beautifully articulates the emotions of those like me who will not have the opportunity to become a grandparent.

An older adult reading to a child. Next Avenue
Reading is one of the activities that AmeriCorps Seniors do with young people.  |  Credit: Courtesy of AmeriCorps Seniors

I guarantee there are children in your community that need the extra love, mentorship, and wisdom that can only come from an older adult or "grandparent-like" figure.

As we age, many of us envision some form of grandparenthood, even if being a parent was not in the cards. Realizing you may not have the "traditional" grandparent role may bring complicated emotions.

Or perhaps you do have grandchildren, but they live far away, so being involved in their lives in person more than once or twice a year is not possible.

If the opportunity to be a grandparent didn't happen for you as expected, either by choice or circumstance, there are still ways you can cherish, uplift and make a positive impact on the life of a child. And I guarantee there are children in your community that need the extra love, mentorship and wisdom that can only come from an older adult or "grandparent-like" figure. This is where volunteering with AmeriCorps Seniors comes into play. I, for one, am looking forward to joining the ranks upon my own retirement.

What is AmeriCorps Seniors?

You may be familiar with AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism, that provides opportunities for Americans to address the nation's most pressing challenges, improve lives, and communities, and strengthen civic engagement by volunteering locally.

AmeriCorps Seniors, designed for volunteers ages 55+, offers three programs that provide opportunities for older adults to connect with their communities. Every year, more than 140,000 AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers make giving back an important part of their "second act."

The AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program connects older adults with children and youth in their local communities who require extra support and guidance from trusted adults. Volunteers mentor and guide children to higher academic achievement and social or emotional development, helping them succeed through one-on-one tutoring and mentorship.

Our member Sally, for example, has been an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer at Central Lake Elementary School in Central Lake, Michigan since 2018. She was the first AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer at the school and has worked to build students' self-esteem and be a friend when they need one. When she noticed a few kids were left out or felt excluded at lunchtime, Sally started a Friendship Club. Students can join her at lunch to share a meal and play games together while also making connections with other classmates.

Volunteers are Committed

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it changed how AmeriCorps Seniors could serve in schools, youth centers and community spaces. Sally didn't let it deter her commitment to the students, however, and began connecting virtually with her students and offering support through video calls.

"When I am online with the kids, we are either working on counting or reading from a book. We both have the same book, so they read to me, and I help them sound out words," explained Sally. While she initially felt called to serve her community, "Grandma Sally" received so much more in return – the love and friendship of her students.


Becoming a Foster Grandparent

Your time and life experience can bring so much value to kids' lives. Reading a story, completing homework or simply chatting one-on-one can help them feel seen, heard and understood.

Volunteers are connected with local schools, early education facilities, after-school organizations or other youth organizations. As a volunteer in the Foster Grandparent Program, you are paired with a "grandchild" according to your skills or experience. Your role could include caring for premature infants, helping students with schoolwork, assisting children with disabilities or mentoring teenagers and young mothers.

Helping children in your community provides many of the rewarding joys of being a grandparent.

AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program serve between five and 30 hours each week and may qualify for a small stipend for their time. Other benefits include:

  • Improved health and wellness. AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers experience decreased anxiety, depression and loneliness. 84% of volunteers report stable or improving health after one year of service.
  • Self-improvement and new skills. Daily service allows volunteers to build on the skills they already have and develop new ones.
  • Community. Connect with others and be part of something bigger. 88% of our volunteers who felt a lack of companionship reported fewer feelings of isolation after becoming an AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer.

Helping children in your community provides many of the rewarding joys of being a grandparent. It can also provide a deeper sense of purpose and connection to your neighborhood and area. But don't just take my word for it; AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer Priscilla gets back as much as she gives to her students at Shiwi Ts'ana Elementary School in Zuni, New Mexico.  

"My motto is, 'there is never a never.' You can always accomplish something. They're teaching me, and at the same time I'm teaching [them]," says Priscilla, who's been with the program since 2016. Serving in the classroom allows her to provide a generational perspective for the kids. As a Zuni Native American, Priscilla shares her language with the students, something they love. Between the kids and Priscilla, they share "both traditional and modern ways of living."

Connect in Your Community

The AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program offers that "grandparent role" you may have wanted to fulfill for a while. If you do have grandchildren of your own but they live far away, you can connect with kids right in your neighborhood. The program will put you into your community, helping you to make connections and deepen your sense of purpose.

I personally look forward to answering the call of service as my "second act" upon retirement. And if you have love in your heart and some time on your hands, you should answer the call, too.

To find a Foster Grandparent Program in your area, check out the AmeriCorps Seniors pathfinder tool.

Atalaya Sergi
Atalaya Sergi leads AmeriCorps Seniors, the federal grantmaking office of AmeriCorps that is focused on promoting and engaging people aged 55 and over in outcomes-oriented service. She has more than 20 years of experience in service, community engagement, and education, working in the public and nonprofit sector to bring private and public organizations together to ensure people of all ages, as well as those living in underserved communities, thrive. Prior to AmeriCorps, she served as vice president, strategic partnerships & programming at Jumpstart for Young Children, Inc., managing AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors programs as a federal grantee. She launched Jumpstart’s only AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program. Read More
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