The state is putting out a call for more volunteers for its Foster Grandparent Program.
The program, which is approaching its 50th anniversary, is looking to double its number of volunteer grandparents.
Every day during the school year, Elouise Frank, also known as “Auntie Puna” spends half a day working with preschoolers at Lanakila Head Start. She’s been doing it for the past three years.
“Why do I do this? I love to see children grow,” she said.
Frank is one of 150 volunteers in the state’s Foster Grandparent Program, which pairs low-income seniors with low-income preschoolers to help two at-risk populations.
If the state had to pay for it, it’d cost about $260,000. The seniors function as an extra teacher’s assistant and more.
Teachers say they see a difference in the children’s readiness to learn.
“The children are more open and they give their advice and opinions and she helps them,” said Head Start teacher Jaci Nishimiya.
Nishimiya says the children need to be emotionally grounded in order to be able to learn. That’s where Auntie Puna makes the biggest difference.
“They don’t know what a hug is. Yes, they come from families like that, which is okay. That’s why we’re here to teach them,” Frank said.
Because of a new state law that takes effect this fall, the state is opening 21 more pre-K classrooms. A total of about 400 children will be served and each of those classrooms would love to have a foster grandparent.
The foster grandparents say they get just as much out of it as they give.
“It makes me feel grounded that I’m still useful,” Frank said.
The kupuna volunteers receive a small stipend as well.
As for the kids, teachers say their performance is measurable in that 98 percent of them meet the school’s end-of-year goals and can graduate to the next grade.