Students helping senior citizens and senior citizens helping students. That’s the dynamic of the Foster Grandparent Program. Fort Wayne resident Bob McFarland is a foster grandparent at Study Elementary. “Actually I started this as a janitor at this school,” said McFarland. “I would go up and get the trash and things and all the kids were so interested in what I was doing. We’d talk a lot. Some of the teachers said man those kids get excited when they see you so the teachers would tell them go see Mr. Bob.”
On the advice of the teachers the 64-year old ditched the broom and signed up for the Foster Grandparent Program. “The kids call me Mr. Bob or they call me Grandpa,” said McFarland. The kindergarteners said Grandpa Bob is lots of fun and very helpful. “If we don’t know how to sound out a word he helps,” said one of the children. “He’s like a friend,” said another.
Grandpa Bob, a retired veteran is a regular in teacher Jared Flotow’s kindergarten class. “This is our third year together,” said Flotow. “It’s a great partnership. I started teaching kindergarten the same year that he started here at the school. He assists with classroom management and he also works with small groups of students.”
“We’re a team,” said McFarland. That sense of teamwork is shared throughout the classroom. Senior citizens in the Fort Wayne Foster Grandparent Program have been doing work like this since 1965. They help teachers teach low-income children who have special educational needs. Anyone 55 and older who meets certain requirements can participate.
“A lot of them work in Pre-K,” said Danielle Lyons, Fort Wayne Foster Grandparent Program Director. “We have some that even work in the infant and toddler classrooms in some child care facilities. “We do so much in the community and with all the school systems in Fort Wayne.”
Senior citizens who meet income limitations can also receive a stipend of $2.65 an hour. Of the 68 foster grandparents enrolled in the 2019 program, Grandpa Bob is one of only four men. “What we need in this program is more men,” said McFarland. “We need father figures and grandpa figures.”
McFarland is a widower. He has three children, 11 grand children and two great grand children. He calls the students at Study Elementary his extended family. “I wouldn’t give it up for nothin’,” he said. “I love these kids. The reward of all this here is the hugs and they say I love you and mean it. Just being here and seeing them smile and knowing there’s someone here for them means everything. Yeah so this is my family and I have all these kids and they’re my kids.”
“We’ve had studies done that show our grandparents are healthier by going out every day and having a purpose,” said Lyons. “They help the children and the children help them.”
“They come up and hug me and I hug them back,” said McFarland. “They know I care about them and love them that’s the whole point of this. A little love goes a long way.”