Foster Grandparent Program
In 1967, the Foster Grandparents Program that services all of Nevada save Clark County began.
Executive Director Mary Ann Dyer says the federal program, which is one of about 300 nationwide, was one of the first.
Dyer says the primary funding source for many years was the federal government, which determines the goals and guidelines for administering the program.
“What makes it all work with our guidelines is that we’re allowed to give our volunteers an hourly stipend of $2.55 an hour,” says Dyer. “No one can just start up the program without going through the Corporation for National Service because the money is exempt income for our seniors,” according to the Older American Act of 1965.
“If these people go to work anywhere else, their rent would go up, they’d lose their SSI and their Medicaid,” says Dyer.
Dyer says this is not a dabbling in volunteerism. “We take people over 60 who need to supplement their income,” she says. “They must commit to work 20 hours per week.
“They are assigned to volunteer stations which are all youth-related agencies,” she explains. “They work under the direction of agency’s the staff, but we sign a memorandum of agreement with the agency stating that the volunteers belong to us.”
The foster grandparents do not become members of the agency’s staff, they don’t run all their copies, do their filing, prepare their coffee and snacks. Dyer says it is imperative that all of a foster grandparent’s work is related to the youth served by the agency.
“We’re working right now with 45 youth-related agencies in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Lovelock, Wadsworth, Fernley, Silver Springs, Yerington and Truckee,” says Dyer.
Dyer says when she became director 13 years ago, she changed the program so it functions more privately, now receiving only 60 percent of its funding from one source (the government).
Dyer says three full-time staff members oversee the current 140 foster grandparents.
Three years ago the Foster Grandparents Program began working with Judge McGee’s drug court. Dyer says four court-appointed mentors were assigned to be a support system for people who may have damaged or destroyed their support systems through their drug use.
“It’s new approach,” says Dyer. “[The foster grandparents] don’t take care of them or baby sit their children. They show them how to be parents. They try to help these families reunite and become functioning families and help them get into the parenting routine.”
Dyer says there are now 12 court-appointed mentors working with over 100 families and 140 children, adding that the foster grandparents are accepted because they’re not a part of the system.
“They’re being grandmas and mothers,” says Dyer. “They’re not investigators like the probation officers and social workers. They’re truly there to say, ‘Let me see if I can help you.’ They offer sound advice and, with their knowledge and experience, it usually works.”
Foster grandparents must attend an initial training, go through a background check and participate in conflict-resolution and positive discipline training as well as attending at least a four-hour in-service each month.
Dyer says her oldest volunteer is a 92-year-old woman. "When she broke her hip at 89, she had a reason to get well and get back to work. It rejuvenates them and keeps them healthier."