CADIZ — A group of senior citizens have been getting a free education at Belmont Technical College’s Cadiz branch.
It’s nothing new. A lot of colleges offer free classes to seniors, but unlike the norm, these seniors are eligible to and have earned associates degrees.
That’s because they are members of the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development’s (COAD) Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs.
They volunteer their time in the community helping others, so Belmont Tech in term has helped them by furthering their education.
“We are so fortunate that Belmont Tech is affording our volunteers a degree,” said Keith Guisti, COADs Area I Senior Program’s Division Coordinator.
“They are working for it.
“Other colleges allow seniors to go for free, but they don’t get anything for it.
“Our volunteers receive an associates degree.
Guisti said the oldest volunteer that has graduated is 87-year old Mabel Decker from New Philadelphia.
He explained Decker is doing well now and works with a headstart group in Tuscarawas County.
The volunteers are able accumulate credit hours toward an associate’s degree in Early Childhood education.
Currently, both the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs are open to adults ages 60 and up.
Volunteers whose income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines receive a stipend of $2.65 per hour, plus assistance for meals and travels expenses.
Those residing above the 125 percent mark are still eligible to participate, but will not receive the hourly stipend.
The program, which has been around since 1972, will soon receive a boost according to Guisti.
He explained that the income guidelines will change effective Oct. 1.
They will be bumped to 200 percent or less of the guidelines, meaning a single person can make up to 22,000.
The age requirement is also being dropped from 60 to 55 which should allow for more volunteers to take part in the program.
“Most of them are lower income and looking for a little extra money,” “Guisti said.
“They are mostly widows and widowers and its a great atmosphere for them because they love children.
“You can’t ask for a better fit and with schools operating on a tight school budget, it provides the schools a free service.”
For the Foster Grandparent program, the volunteers work in a number of different locations: schools, head start programs, juvenile justice centers, hospitals, libraries and MRDD programs.
They volunteers serve as mentors and positive role models for little ones all the way up through teenaged kids.
They can help with homework, offer up advice, but perhaps the most important role is they are a friend.
“The kids love to hear the stories, especially if they are into history,” Guisti said.
“The volunteers can provide first-hand accounts of the past that the kids can’t get anywhere else.”
Guisti said a lot of the kids come from dual working families and don’t get to spend a lot of time with their parents.
Some have moved away from grandparents as well to find work and the biggest benefit seems to be for children from single parent families.
“Some of the kids are basically lonely and it fills a big void in their lives.”
The Senior Companion program is similar in its approach, but volunteers are paired with senior citizens, or disabled adults age 21 and older.
While the volunteers in this program aren’t performing any medical treatments or professional care, the services they offer are just as invaluable.
A lot of the volunteers offer respite services and are able to sit and talk with and keep a loved one company, offering another member of the household the opportunity to run errands or even get out of the house briefly for a break.
They also can help out with light work around the house, assisting with chores, laundry.
And like with the Foster Grandparents, the biggest bonus is friendship.
“A lot of our clients have no one around because their families have moved out of the valley, but they have roots here and don’t want to leave,” Guisti said.
“Our volunteers can also help get people to their doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, etc.
“Most of the parings have become close friends.”
“All the community action agencies in Ohio are part of COAD and we all work hand in hand,” Guisti said.
“Job and Family Services and the Passport program are our biggest helpers.”
Guisti said that when representatives go to residents’ houses to asses a patients needs for medical assistance, if other assistance is needed, they will call his office for a backup.
Or if the resident doesn’t meet the specific medical/income qualifications, they look to Guisti’s programs to see if they can come in and help out in some other fashion.
“It gives us an extra set of eyes and allows us to reach more people that need it,” he said.
“We get a lot of cooperation and in order to succeed, you need that.”
VOLUNTEERS OF the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Developmentás Forster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs that attended classes this summer at Belmont Technical College in Cadiz. They are gaining credit hours toward and associate degree in Early Childcare.