By Theda Pittman
For Senior Voice 

Rural elder mentor program to resume

RurAL CAP will run Foster Grandparents


Courtesy RurAL CAP

Mapping the future of Foster Grandparents in Alaska, RurAL CAP's Jan Abbott (left) and Cathie Clements look for potential locations statewide. Jan is the Manager for the Elder Mentor program and Cathie is the Director of the Community Development Division.

Alaska's Elder Mentor/Foster Grandparent program is resuming service under new funding through the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP). Lower income elders and seniors who volunteer receive a small stipend for working at least 20 hours per week with children in schools, preschools, Head Start centers and other community-based programs.

These volunteers mentor youth who need assistance in succeeding academically and in developing positive social skills. In circumstances where a young person might lack positive role models to applaud their successes and to encourage them to persevere through difficulties, the presence of an elder mentor or foster grandparent can provide much needed support, program organizers say.

With funding from the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services as well as the Senior Corps program of the Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS), RurAL CAP is now working to connect with former volunteers and with sites such as schools and pre-schools which want to continue their participation. There is also an opportunity for new senior volunteers and schools to participate as well.

The term "Elder Mentor" is frequently used in rural areas and cultures where elders are traditionally held in high regard. "Foster Grandparent" is more likely to be the phrase for such a relationship in urban Alaska. In either case, the definition of a mentor as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher aptly applies. The CNCS online profile of Alaska services as of March 2013, reported 134 foster grandparents working at 39 locations with over 1,500 at-risk youth.

Anecdotal evidence makes it clear that these relationships are beneficial to both youth and elders.

An example might be a situation where a child comes to school upset because of something that happened that morning or on the way to school. With a volunteer available to help that child individually, the potential disruption to the rest of the class can be minimized, which is helpful to the child, the class and the teacher.

But there is an increased emphasis from funding sources on documenting the results of the program.

Program manager Jan Abbott says, "The goal is to see measurable improvement in school readiness for the preschool children and academic engagement as well as advancement in the older students. We have successful models in which elders have spent time working one-on-one with three or four students throughout the week, bonding with them, helping with their assignments and also spending time with small groups sharing culture and life skills. We also hear from teachers that students are often more engaged in class when there is an elder present."

The tax exempt stipend for volunteers is $2.65 per hour if the elder meets low income guidelines. They also receive support for transportation and meals. Abbott notes, "We want to make sure that they don't have to use their personal financial resources, plus have a small financial gain. We also want them to enjoy the benefit of knowing how important their lifetime of knowledge and skills are in shaping the future of their community. The participation of elders with a passion for helping young people is needed in both rural and urban neighborhoods."

There are a few prerequisites. Elders must be 55 or older; meet the income guidelines; have an Alaska state background check completed, and an annual physical assessment, which is to assure they are able to work with students without negative health impacts. There may also be some guidelines that the school requires. The costs associated for these prerequisites are covered by RurAL CAP and elders receive a thorough orientation and ongoing education.

Further information about the Foster Grandparent and Elder Mentor program is available from RurAL CAP at; by calling 907-865-7276 or toll free 800-478-7227; or by email to


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