WILKES-BARRE – With grandchildren and great-grandchildren of her own, 92-year-old Mary Provenzano says working with the Foster Grandparent Program is a no brainer.
My family and friends tell me to stay home, but what am I going to do at home by myself? Provenzano, of Hazleton, and a 25-year participant in the program said. I liked it from the beginning.
Provenzano is the oldest of the 138 foster grandparents in Luzerne and Wyoming counties that attended the 40th annual holiday luncheon held Friday at Genetti's Hotel and Convention Center in honor of the participants.
The local program is sponsored by the Area Agency on Aging for Luzerne and Wyoming Counties and federally funded, Foster Grandparent Program Director Mary Lou Zerfoss said.
Foster grandparents are individuals 55 and older who have a limited income and have a desire to work with at-risk children.
For 20 hours a week, grandparents earn a stipend of $2.65 an hour while working as mentors and tutors for local schools, day care centers and other programs.
It's really volunteer work, Zerfoss said. We want to honor them (at the luncheon) for giving so much of themselves.
Zerfoss said the program is important to children because of the area's unemployment and education levels. Hopefully with mentors from the program, children will have increased literacy that will eventually result in a decreased unemployment rate, she said.
The program also helps children who come from families with increased needs, such as English as a second language and families with alcohol and drug problems, Zerfoss said.
Provenzano said she began working with the program 25 years ago at a Hazleton nursing home. Soon after, she was asked to participate through the Head Start program and has been there since.
I teach them their ABCs, letters, shapes, how to color, how to spell their name. Basically, what they are supposed to know when they go to kindergarten, Provenzano said.
The 3- to 5-year-olds Provenzano fosters at Head Start call her Grandma and miss her when she's out sick.
I keep all their pictures from all the years, and sometimes I find myself laughing at memories while going through them, Provenzano said.
Mary Lou Postupack, 77, also of Hazleton, has been working with the program for a decade and says she wouldn't be anywhere else.
I love it, Postupack said. I love being with the kids and helping them with their reading and when they need you the most.
Postupack found out about the program through a friend who participated, and she was accepted shortly thereafter. She works with first-graders at Arthur Street Elementary School in Hazleton.
It helps the teachers and it's personally rewarding, Postupack said. Knowing you're helping and getting to see how happy the children are…it's wonderful.
Contact Director Mary Lou Zerfoss or Kathy Dwyer, field coordinator, at 822-1158 or 1-800-252-1512 for more information. New foster grandparents receive training during a pre-service orientation as well as on-the-job training at host agencies.