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Foster Grandparents and Grandchildren: Healing Together

by Kate Enos

On April 27, Tuscaloosa, Alabama was on the minds of many Americans, but most didn't realize the damage statewide, especially in the small town of Hackleburg, population 1,500. In a rural area nearly 100 miles away from Birmingham, Hackleburg remains in the shadow of Tuscaloosa but the damage was just as bad, if not worse. The majority of the town was demolished and 17 residents were killed in the storm.

68-year-old Foster Grandparent Janice Vice saw the devastation all around her town and immediately thought of her “grandchildren”.

“My house was damaged beyond repair and my neighbor's house was completely blown away,” said Vice. “I immediately went downtown, where most of the children lived and it was a miracle there was no fatalities among them or their families. They ran to me to ask if I was ok and it touched my heart because I wondered the same thing about them.”

Vice is a Foster Grandparent at Hackleburg Elementary, a school that was completely destroyed in the April 27 tornado. A former substitute teacher, she vowed to continue to help the children as their “grandma” for the remainder of the school year at the local church, even though her own house was destroyed.

“Thankfully, our superintendent decided to dismiss school after hearing the forecast and it was a blessing he did – we would have had devastation and additional casualties with both elementary and high school completely destroyed. It breaks my heart to see what could have been.” said Vice.

August marked a new school year for Hackleburg Elementary, bringing together the students, teachers, and Foster Grandparents who have turned to each other for strength and healing. Now in portable classrooms, students are adjusting to the surroundings and are eager to learn.

“As we begin to come back together, it is good for the children because they realize we all lived through this together and we must go on. We are all bonded together and they treat their peers more like family than their classmates,” said Vice.

For Vice, she was excited to return to school and work with her 5th graders because she knows that there will always be a child in need of extra help and attention to succeed.

“I always love seeing the progress with the students I work with and it makes it worth it when I see them succeed and do well. These children would drop through the cracks and not get the help they need if it weren't for Foster Grandparents.

For the volunteers, it gives us a purpose. It shows even though we're older citizens, we have something to share with younger students and fulfills us when we are helping making a difference in a child's life and inspire them to always reach for their dreams and goals.”

The Foster Grandparent Programis one of three signature Senior Corps programs. Each year Senior Corps engages 450,000 older Americans in service to their communities through the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service.

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