During the last few years of my grandmother’s life, she enjoyed the company of her great-grandchild. He visited her regularly at her retirement facility in Pennsylvania. It didn’t take long before all of the patients and staff knew his name and warmly greeted him as he strutted through the lobby waving to everyone as if he were the Mayor. Unfazed by his great-grandmother’s frail appearance, he would hop into her lap and charm her with his toddler chatter.
My grandmother passed away peacefully in January, 2014 at the age of 99. She treasured her time with her grandchildren and more recently her great-grandchildren. She shared her wisdom with us and we reciprocated by making her feel loved and energized.
It’s this image of two distant generations interacting with and enjoying one another that made me wonder where such relationships are supported here in Seattle. With so many out-of-state families, like my own, maintaining close ties with grandparents can be challenging. Where can kids benefit from those regular interactions if they can’t get them at home?
I had to look no further than the Pike Market Childcare and Preschool. That’s right, there’s a day care and preschool smack in the middle of Pike Place Market! How I’ve gone living in Seattle for 17 years not knowing about this, I’ve no idea.
The Pike Market Child Care and Preschool (PMCCP) first opened its doors in 1982 with the mission of making high quality, affordable child care and preschool available to families of all income levels. Approximately 70% of the school’s families receive tuition assistance, thanks to the Pike Market Foundation and PMCCP’s own fundraising efforts.
In addition to its mission and iconic location, what makes PMCCP so unique is its use of seniors from the Foster Grandparents Program. Every day senior volunteers spend their mornings at the school assisting teachers by providing a source of warmth and nurture for the children.
“They are extra love, they are not here to supervise,” explained Ilene Stark, PMCCP’s Executive Director.
The Foster Grandparent Program, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, is a national program that formed under Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative. Here in King County, the program operates in 20 schools and community centers, all of which are coordinated by Catholic Community Services.
Seniors must be low-income, 55 years or older, and be able to volunteer a minimum of 15hrs/week. In return they receive a small non-taxable stipend. Many seniors are immigrants or refugees without nearby family.
“The Foster Grandparents Program is a way for seniors to feel engaged,” said Katie Auger, the program’s volunteer coordinator for King and Snohomish counties. “They have so much knowledge and compassion to share, and it helps kids who can use extra love and attention.”
PMCCP currently has four Foster “Grandmas”, two of whom are from China and two from Taiwan. The oldest “Grandma,” is 89 years-old and has been a Foster Grandparent at the school for 16 years.
According to Ms. Stark, not only do the Grandmas add to the school’s incredible diversity but they create more individualized attention for the children.
“Having the Foster Grandparents around is like a no brainer. It’s like a gift.”
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A similar article about the Foster Grandparents Program and Pike Market Child Care and Preschool can be found in the October 2015 issue of Seattle’s Child.