t’s 30 minutes until lunchtime on a rainy Monday in June during Wilcox Elementary’s summer SCOPE program.
The 10 second- and third-graders in the program that provides activities for children whose parents are at work have divided up by gender — boys playing with LEGO bricks, girls with heads bent over papers — during quiet activity time before it’s their turn to eat.
On the girls’ side of the room, two 8-year-olds sit side-by-side completing word-find puzzles in hot-pink marker. Clara Fry, a 78-year-old volunteer, stops by to help them locate a word they are struggling to find.
Standing just a head taller than the 7- and 8-year-olds in the room, Fry doesn’t need to lean down much to be at their eye level. She easily wraps a comforting arm around Abby Hughes, who will be a Wilcox third-grader in the fall, as she assists her.
Fry is a longtime volunteer at Wilcox, but the children in the classroom come from elementary schools throughout the area for the Springfield school district’s summer SCOPE (Serving Children of Parents Employed) program. Yet after just a few days, they’ve all adopted her as “Grandma Clara,” and she’s wrapped them into her large family of grandchildren.
“She’s really nice,” said 8-year-old Autumn Dunn, who will be in third grade at Little Flower School this fall. “Every day, we always do a different craft.”
Fry is one of 37 local senior “volunteers” who are part of the Foster Grandparent Program, a federally and state-funded grant program operated locally by Kids Hope United, a family and child advocacy group that services Sangamon and Morgan counties.
Serving Springfield for the past 10 years, the Foster Grandparent program pairs low-income senior citizens with local nonprofit or church-affiliated sites. The senior citizens make a modest income ($2.65 per hour), can work 20 to 40 hours per week and can pick the type of site — elementary schools, day cares, after-school programs — and age groups they work with. The program offers four hours of training to the volunteers each month and social opportunities.
“It’s a win-win-win,” said Gloria Plummer, program director. The sites receive extra help for free, and senior citizens stay busy and feel they are giving back to the community.
“And the kids, obviously it benefits them,” Plummer said. “It’s really addressing a major community need, developing a relationship for the child and the senior.”