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Sep 19 2017

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Foster Grandparent Program

By Zach Kinder

When Maria Valdez lost her son and grandchild in 1996, she was a wreck and felt lost. A small advertisement about the Foster Grandparent Program through Volunteers of America Colorado became a godsend for her.

Two decades later, “Grandma Maria” is more passionate about serving than when she started. She begins her 22nd school year this month, and her fifteenth at Lincoln Elementary in Loveland.

“If you can make a difference in a kid’s life, that’s the most important thing you can do,” she said.

Changing a child’s life is reason enough for Grandma Maria, but it’s also helped improve her health. A 2012 research study found volunteering reduces depression, stress and risk of disease, while increasing physical fitness, mental functionality, sense of purpose and longevity.

If the health benefits alone aren’t enough, Grandma Maria has another impassioned plea to seniors. “You should not be at home thinking about yourself,” she said. “Think about those poor kids who need us. If you really love kids, you can’t go wrong. I know because I’ve been doing it for 21 years.”

Foster Grandparents must commit to at least 15 hours/week, but receive a nontaxable stipend of $2.65 per hour, which does not affect benefits such as Social Security, food stamps, housing subsidies or Medicare/Medicaid.

For many Foster Grandparents, the real value isn’t money or benefits, but the look on a child’s face when they’ve accomplished something. It’s one of the many reasons Grandma Maria comes back each year.

“I have no plans to go anywhere,” she said. “If I’m in this good of shape when I’m 100, I’ll probably still be volunteering.”

To learn more about the Foster Grandparent Program in the Loveland or Fort Collins areas, call 303-297-0408 and ask for the Foster Grandparent Program.

Photo credit: Volunteers of America Colorado Branch

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