A Day in the Life of Aimee Salecker- Foster Grandparent Program ManagerPosted March 17, 2021
Aimee starts her day. Today she’s in the office, but she has been working remotely for most of this past year during the pandemic. She previously worked as a local Community Center Director before joining CEO 18 months ago.
The Foster Grandparent program allows senior volunteers to earn a tax-free stipend for volunteering anywhere from 15 to 40 hours a week, helping children to learn and grow through fun and educational activities. Income-eligible adults, 55 years and older are placed on assignment at various volunteer stations within their individual communities.
Aimee checks voicemail and emails and forms a to-do list of more urgent items to add to what she was already planning on accomplishing for the day. Things have been different this year with COVID. Few grandparents are back in the classrooms at this point, but the Foster Grandparent (FGP) team checks in with all of the grandparent volunteers to make sure they are doing alright and have what they need. Aimee has a message from a grandparent in crisis when she gets in. Their heat has been turned off, and they are looking for assistance. Other days they may get news from a grandparent that they are positive for COVID. The FGP team will check in to see how they might be able to help and offer resources.
Aimee hosts a short group meeting with Vivian and Joanna to see what everyone is working on. Vivian Sanchez is the FGP Outreach and Recruitment Specialist, and Joanna Kiss is the Program Assistant. The FGP team is small, but they are able to accomplish a lot.
Vivian and Joanna are working on the Pen Pal Program, they are currently getting volunteers involved in that program and recruiting school participants. Vivian and Joanna call the participating grandparents and get details to make a volunteer profile. Each volunteer profile will be sent to kids in a participating classroom. The program currently has participating classrooms at Watervliet Elementary, Troy School 12, and Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Region. Watervliet Elementary started out with just a few classrooms, and now they are up to eight!
Before the COVID-19 pandemic the Foster Grandparents were spread out in person across five different counties. The program had placements in daycares, school districts, private schools, and the Youthbuild program. Once the pandemic hit, schools closed and all 80 of the Foster Grandparents headed home. It has been seven months and the program now has one FGP working back in a classroom. “She goes in every day for five hours, every Monday she goes into the facility and is rapid tested before arriving at her placement,” says Aimee.
“We’ve started some virtual FGP services too,” says Aimee. “Albany City School District is virtual, and the teachers report to the school. Our grandparent volunteer reports to the school to help the teacher in the classroom to make sure she has the tools and resources she needs while she’s with the kids. Our grandparent is there daily for about four or five hours too.”
Because of COVID Senior Corps regulations have changed opportunities for service to allow the FGPs to volunteer their time in a wider variety of ways to help with education.
20 FGPs are now placed, in either virtual, in person, or pen pal programs. Which is about 1/4 of the pool that the program normally serves, but Aimee’s team is working daily to increase that in a safe way.
Those FGPs that don’t currently have a placement are doing Zoom training, and the team is continually building up more partnerships and opportunities in the changing landscape.
“In the Fall of 2020 we developed a Return to Service Safety Protocol- a document that helped the Foster Grandparent fully understand the risks and necessary precautions to reduce those risks- so that when the time came, our volunteers were prepared for a safe return to service no matter what that looked like. The Safety Protocol outlines Safety Rules as well as Screening Protocols and eligibility for return and what to do if they didn’t feel safe at their volunteer station, says Aimee”
“This month, on the 16th we are also hosting a COVID-19 Vaccine Education Training with the Healthy Capital District Initiative. We want to make sure that our volunteers are presented with all the facts when making the choice to be vaccinated or not.”
This week is stipend week, so Aimee is preparing and making sure all of the timesheets are in. The FGP program provides each Foster Grandparent with a stipend for their volunteer hours.
The FGPs receive three dollars an hour for every hour that they serve. Right now they are getting an average weekly pay based on previous volunteering. They also have PTO that is issued quarterly that they can use at any time or any reason. Typically, the Foster Grandparents use the PTO for doctor’s appointments or other things that would interfere with their normal schedule. They need to adhere to a set schedule, so the PTO comes in handy. Volunteers commit to at least 15 hours a week to maintain the FGP service minimum. During COVID those requirements have been waived, due to the risks and restrictions associated with in-classroom service.
Normally the FGPs would fill the timesheets out themselves, but right now that falls to the FGP Team. Aimee works on the individual timesheets and backup documentation for the 80 grandparents. This easily takes half a day.
Aimee takes her lunch
Aimee works on her timesheets again for a few moments before signing on for a Zoom meeting with the Mid-Hudson Consortium, made up of other Senior Corps directors- RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) Directors and Senior Companion Managers/Directors. The group gets together bi-monthly to see what’s new and how everyone is dealing with different issues that everyone is facing within their respective programs. It’s a great opportunity to share ideas with other managers and directors.
“Some programs, like RSVP, have 400 volunteers-which seems like such a large number compared to our 80 volunteers, but the service model is very different. With 80 it seems like it’s hard sometimes to stay connected and recognize all of our volunteers, but we try our best.”
In addition to the service/volunteer opportunities, the FGP program also provides social events for the grandparents to participate in periodically throughout the year. They offer a Years of Service luncheon event in April. The luncheon provides an opportunity to recognize milestone service and gather together to celebrate the work being done across the program. The Foster Grandparent staff also plans an end of summer picnic. Not all of the Foster Grandparents volunteer throughout the summer because many of the placement locations follow the school year calendar. The summer picnic is a great opportunity for everyone to reunite prior to the school year start. Lastly, they plan a holiday get together every December. “We try to make it really festive and fun,” says Aimee. “The Foster Grandparents love to dance. I overheard Vivian talking on the phone the other day with one of the volunteers about their moves, and how much they miss the dance floor!”
Things were a little different this year. The staff did a drive-by recognition event last spring. It was early on during the pandemic, so staff dropped off paper towels, hand sanitizers, water, masks, and other things they would need to stay safe while at home. This past summer, instead of having a picnic, they did a grab-and-go lunch. The Foster Grandparents preordered from a set menu and they all picked up at set locations over a small window of time. It was a nice way for them to get out and come pick up and socialize with the staff in a socially distanced way even if for a few minutes. At the holidays they did another drive-by with some cold weather essentials and gifts for each of the Foster Grandparents.
Aimee is back to working on timesheets for a few minutes. The week they are due, she’ll work on the timesheets one day, and the stipend file to submit to the Fiscal department for processing on another day.
Aimee has a station meeting with a teacher at the Albany City School District about what engagement could look like for them going forward. With the Albany City School District the program has FGPs that are placed within UPK classrooms as well as K-5, however, UPK is under different direction and is open to having volunteers. The UPK is run by the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area and Aimee has been working to build that partnership. It’s a great connection, because the Boys & Girls Club also offers after school programs, and has a great reach across the Capital Region.
“We are always trying to place our volunteers within the community they live. It works best when they are able to volunteer in their own community. That way their community is going to be stronger because of their volunteer efforts. If you are a Troy resident we are going to try to place you at a participating program here, or within a few miles. Then that FGP can see and connect with kids in their community. It doesn’t work for all, because FGPs have preferences for different strengths and preferences when it comes to the age groups; some FGPs want to be in a K-5 setting, and others want to work with babies or teens. We do our best to place whether it’s public school, non-profit daycares, after school programs, faith based schools, Head Start and Early Head Start, and YouthBuild. We have placements across the following counties: Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and includes Saratoga, and Washington Counties which have been grandfathered in. We only have Saratoga and Washington because we have active placements, but are not actively building those service areas at this time. It’s a lot to manage.”
Aimee checks her email one more time, and makes a list for the next day before heading home.
What is Your Favorite Part of Your Job?
“The outreach with the grandparents, and the connections we make with them. The personal relationships that I gain with everyone are so valuable. Everyone has a different story and learning their story is amazing to me. To see where they’ve come from and to see why they are the person they are is wonderful. These people have lived long lives, and it’s always amazing to hear their experiences of what they’ve gone through and how it has shaped them.”