ROCK SPRINGS — Gary Leslie, who is better known as Grandpa Gary at Overland Elementary School, goes to the campus every school day to work with students as a foster grandparent. Sometimes he reads to children, and other times he participates in projects and games.
“He comes in and interacts with the kids,” Overland third-grade teacher Kelli King said. “Kids need extra help, and he knows who they are and visits them every day.”
She said he sometimes purposely doing things wrong to see if they’re paying attention, and if they aren’t “he corrects them.”
“He’s kind to them, but he doesn’t allow them to get away with things they’re not supposed to,” she said.
Grandpa Gary goes in for about five hours each day. He begins by checking in at King’s class before helping her out or moving to other classes that need his assistance. He has also proctored students taking the Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students.
“The teachers are starting to use me more,” he said. “It’s a five-hour day. I’m busy all hours.”
Foster grandparents like Grandpa Gary are part of a program that allows volunteers age 55 and older to stay active by serving youth in their communities, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. However, programs overseen by the corporation may be threatened if proposed budget cuts are made.
Chopping block nominee
In Wyoming, there are more than 970 volunteers serving in Senior Corps, according to CNCS Press Secretary Samantha Jo Warfield. Its programs include Foster Grandparents, Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and Senior Companions. Senior Corps, which is part of the corporation, may lose federal funding if President Donald Trump’s budget proposal is passed by Congress. Proposed cuts to federal agencies total about $3.1 billion, according to Money Magazine. The corporation receives about $1 billion annually, according to Warfield.
“It’s easy to put it on the chopping block because not a lot of people know about it,” Overland Principal Ryan Allen said.
Grandpa Gary said the program allows teachers to work with other students.
“I think it’s a valuable program because the classrooms are undermanned,” he said. “They can go ahead with the rest of the class.”
King said his help has been invaluable.
“It’s an extra body in there in case there’s a student who needs extra help,” she said.
Grandpa Gary said he chose to volunteer at Overland Elementary because third-graders from the school come down to the Young at Heart Center to eat lunch with the seniors and listen to Remember When history presentations.
Allen said Grandpa Gary receives lunch as part of an in-kind contribution, but added the school does not pay for it. The parent teacher organization stepped up to pay for his meals.
Allen said the Foster Grandparents program benefits everyone and “to drop it would be crazy.”
About the Corporation for National and Community Service
The corporation was established under the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 with the mission to connect Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities to give back to their communities and nation.
At its inception, it was directed to manage three main programs:
• Senior Corps, which incorporated Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions
• AmeriCorps, which incorporated Volunteers in Service to America, the new National Civilian Community Corps program, and the full-time demonstration program established under the National and Community Service Act of 1990
• Learn and Serve America, formerly known as Serve America