Thursday, May 10, 2012
Over the last six years, 69-year-old Richard Rangel has had 24 grandkids.
“This is the most rewarding thing in my life,” he says. “I’m so proud.”
He isn’t referring to the biological process by which a parent becomes a grandparent, and it’s not an indulgent trip down a candy aisle. He and 78 other Monterey County seniors are part of the Seniors Council Foster Grandparent Program. They dedicate 15 to 25 hours a week in Head Start, preschool and kindergarten classes around the county to help youngsters in need of tutoring. These “grandparents” get a stipend from the state, but it’s the chance to give struggling children a scholastic boost that keeps them committed, fulfilled and looking forward to each new school year like a crayon dealer.
At age 7, Jocelyn lives with relatives of her mother. She’s been through a checklist of family drama that has left her well behind kindergarten classmates in areas like math and English. Her teacher is concerned, but doesn’t have time in a classroom of 28 bouncing 5 – and 6-year-olds to take extra time for just one student.
“She knows the numbers zero to 20 pretty well, but we’re having a little trouble getting to 30,” Rangel says. He’s been assigned as Jocelyn’s “grandparent” at Laurelwood Elementary School in Salinas and speaks with pride as he lists her accomplishments since August. “She can write her name without tracing it and she’s learning the alphabet. She still has to sing it, but she understands it pretty well.”
Rangel is a retired hydraulic equipment salesman, not formally schooled in elementary education, but after some state training and six years of experience, his effect on the scholastic careers of kindergarteners is monumental.
“With the foster grandparents, we can provide individualized support to certain students. They provide a good basis for learning and really give the kids a step up,” says Laurelwood principal Catherine Rondeau.
Still, some of Rangel’s favorite moments occur outside the classroom.
“Imagine being in a wide shopping mall and a little kid breaks away from their parents and comes running to hug you around the legs,” he says. “That’s happened to me a few times; they want to introduce me to their family – it’s like they are proud!”
The help of local nonprofits including United Way, the Harden Foundation, the Community Foundation for Monterey County and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation Youth Fund helps the Seniors Council come up with the annual $85,000 it needs to qualify for a yearly $850,000 federal grant fueling this program in three counties.
Program director Bob Campbell is grateful for the financial help, but is firm in his belief that success is thanks to the volunteer grandparents.
“These people want to give back. They have an inner desire to continue to contribute meaningfully. They have a huge positive impact,” he says.
Rangel couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. “None of us has had a bad experience,” he says. “This fills my heart, and that, to me, is priceless.”
Find out more at www.seniorscouncil.org/foster_program.html or by calling 1-800-945-0099 ext.12.