Girseal Dixon has spent a lifetime raising and working with children. She’s been a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a foster parent, a school lunchroom aide, a daycare owner and a scout leader.
And each child, she says, has been a blessing.
Now Dixon is the Beeghly campus’ first “Foster Grandparent,” a pilot program launched in April between Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley and Family & Community Services Inc.
The program pairs qualified seniors 55 and older with children at the hospital for one-on-one care and mentoring opportunities.
Dixon spends 40 hours a week at Beeghly, mainly in the waiting room area for radiology and registration, interacting with children and easing their anxiety about being in a hospital.
“This opportunity helps fulfill my dreams to work with children, inspire them and help them grow,” Dixon said. “I visit with the children who are waiting to see a doctor or go to surgery. We play games or do art projects or educational workbooks. It’s something constructive and hopefully fun for them to do to keep their minds off of what they’re here for.”
Dixon was an ideal candidate for the program. She served as a Foster Grandparent for 4 years at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Youngstown, working with at-risk children between 3rd and 6th grades.
She also holds an associate’s degree in pre-kindergarten education and a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Youngstown State University – degrees she earned during her senior years.
And, she’s helping raise a 5th grade, great-granddaughter in her home.
She believes the opportunity can be a fit for anyone with a passion for working with children of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“My advice is to get in there and do it, and use the talent you have,” she said. “The young children need this.”
The Foster Grandparent program is active in certain local city schools and Head Start centers, and is looking to expand into hospitals and other under-served areas. Approved volunteers are role models, mentors and friends to children with identified needs.
To qualify to become a Foster Grandparent, applicants must pass a thorough background screening and skills assessment, and then complete 20 hours of pre-service training.
Volunteers serve 15-40 hours per week, and those who meet certain household income guidelines are eligible for a government stipend of $2.65 per hour plus transportation costs.
To learn more or apply for the Foster Grandparents program, contact Gerard Kelly at 330-480-0352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.