LIVERMORE — Arin Quintel said she was terrified when she first considered becoming a foster grandparent.

She has been in the program since October, but wants to encourage others to get involved.

Quintel, who is 60 and doesn’t have grandchildren, heard about the program through a neighbor. She studied education in college but wanted to “do” art, not teach it. Thinking it was too early to retire, she was looking for something steady to provide extra income.

Quintel filled out an application, completed the orientation and passed the background check and works in Ashlee Giroux’ third-grade class where she is known as Grammy Arin.

She serves as another set of eyes and hands for the teacher.

“I see how hard these teachers work,” Quintel said. Often several students need attention at once. “I’m a caring, loving, compassionate presence,” she said.  

Foster grandparents model good behavior, help students with their classwork and encourage them when they are working hard or struggling.

Livermore Elementary School has two foster grandparents. Marianne Marden has volunteered in the Livermore Elementary School for a year. A pediatric nurse, she moved to the area from Cumberland County where she also served as a foster grandparent. She plans to return to Cumberland County soon.

Kindergarten teacher Sarah Hubbard said she doesn’t know what she will do without Marden. 

Being able to get out and be useful to the community are reasons Marden joined the program. The part she likes the most is the children. “They’re a lot of fun. Helping them gives me a purpose. All those hugs are great,” she said.

Principal Kevin Harrington said, “It’s an amazing program with excellent people.”

There are no foster grandparent programs at the Jay Elementary School. Principal Chris Hollingsworth said, “From what I have heard, this is a great program and would love to have it at Jay.”

The federal Foster Grandparent Program started in 1965 under the Johnson Administration. Sargent Shriver was tasked by the President to address the issue of poverty facing the country. He came up with the idea of bringing senior citizens and youth with intellectual disabilities together.

Fifty years later, there are over 300 programs nationally. More than 25,000 foster grandparents are reaching over 189,000 children.

In Maine, the Penquis Foster Grandparent Program serves all but York and Cumberland counties. Penquis is a Community Action Agency. Maria Staples, project coordinator, and Angela Hobson, program director, are responsible for all aspects of the program.

The Penquis Foster Grandparent Program places income eligible senior volunteers age 55 and older in public or nonprofit sites such as schools, hospitals, correctional facilities and Head Start centers. The program serves children in 59 Maine districts. It assists children from a few months of age up to 21 years.

In 2014, 97 Penquis Foster Grandparents served at 80 sites in 46 towns, contributing 75,396 hours of service to support the individual needs of 291 children and provide mentoring for more than 2,500 children.

Eligible foster grandparents receive a tax-free stipend, paid holidays, and assistance with transportation and meals. Volunteers commit to spending 15 to 40 hours a week in the program. They meet monthly for training and support opportunities. 

Anyone interested in becoming a foster grandparent or implementing the program may contact Staples or Hobson at 1-800-215-4942, ext. 3684, or by email at [email protected] and [email protected] More information may also be found online at penquis.org.

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