National Volunteer Week spotlight: Why Foster Grandparent Beth Blanton loves working with kids
written by JEAN MACBRIDE
FRANKLIN COUNTY — It’s National Volunteer Week, and the Messenger is spotlighting local volunteers who serve the community with United Way of Northwest Vermont.
Beth Blanton is a Foster Grandparent, volunteering to tutor, mentor and be a friend to local children.
Blanton volunteers remotely due to health reasons in a pen pal program, where she is able to share her artistic side with the children. Foster Grandparents, age 55 and older, also volunteer in-person in schools and youth programs.
“Just knowing that I helped build a child’s confidence is why I volunteer,” Blanton said.
Q: Why did you decide to volunteer with Foster Grandparents?
A: Shortly after retiring, I was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t about to let that diagnosis define me or hold me back. After recovering, I wanted to be active, but I didn’t know what to do. A friend introduced me to the Foster Grandparents program and I found that it was a good fit. I started working in Kindergarten and first grade at BFA-Fairfax.
I was a role model, a mentor, and a friend. The children would ask me to read to them, and help them with a project or something as simple as having their shoes tied. I was challenged by the children who were struggling socially and academically. My heart went out to them because school was so hard for them. I don’t like to see any child struggle.
I often worked one-on-one with them, giving them individual instruction and help. To see their smiles when they caught on was both heartwarming and priceless. I found that my presence was enough to encourage them, sitting next to them in class, holding a hand in the hallway or finding their artwork tucked into my backpack at the end of the day.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have overcome as a volunteer and how have they impacted you?
A: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not gone back to the classroom, but am working remotely with two Head Start classes in South Burlington. I plan and prepare crafts for the children, often using the seasons or upcoming holidays in my planning. This gives me the opportunity to be a kind of pen-pal grandparent. They don’t know me, but they write me back and sometimes share what their finished craft looks like.
Q: What lessons have you learned or benefits have you discovered from being a volunteer?
A: The Foster Grandparent program offers so much to the community they serve and to their volunteers. A person, 55 or older, can volunteer 10-40 hours a week. They give many benefits to the volunteer, such as an hourly stipend, paid time off, sick leave and travel reimbursement, to name a few.
The directors reach out often to see if there are any struggles or needs and are just a phone call away to answer any questions or just to check-in. We have monthly district in-service days, which are always informative and fun. They also offer instructional and educational tools, by request. When people find out what I am doing they often ask about it and I tell them about the joy and satisfaction I get from volunteering and that it’s good to feel useful and have a schedule.
Q: How has being a volunteer shaped your life? Is there anything you do or think about differently?
If you would have told me while I was working in my career in accounting that I would be working with children at this stage in my life and getting the satisfaction I do from it, I wouldn’t have believed it. These kids are our future and I’m blessed to be in their lives.