The Foster Grandparent Program Makes a Difference in The Community They Serve!

by Elpidio Estioko

There’s one nationwide program that we are overlooking for its value and effectiveness in the community, the Job Corps under the Department of Labor (DOL). But when 81-year-old Grandpa Avelino Ocampo passed away, it brought light to the senior volunteers who contribute to communities they serve nationwide, Hawaii included.

Grandpa Avelino, as he is fondly called by teachers, students, and staff, served as a Foster Grandparent at San Jose Job Corps Center (SJJC) under the Seniors Council Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion Program in Santa Clara County, California. He was a teacher aide assigned to assist regular instructors as part of the partnership program in two institutions.

Grandpa Avelino, passed away on July 4, 2021, due to cancer. Before he succumbed to death, instead of retiring, spending his time at home, going to vacation places, and enjoying his moments with his family, he was still working with us even before the pandemic struck us a year and a half ago.

Job Corps is a federal program under the Department of Labor (DOL) giving opportunities to marginalized youths to earn their high school diploma, trade school certificates and GED test. Our center partnered with the Seniors Council Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Program.

I attended the memorial service at Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose, upon the request of his wife Grandma Julieta to say a few words during the eulogy of the memorial service.

Grandpa Avelino helped me in engaging the students in completing their assignments and assisting them in earning their high school and/or GED. I often told him he belongs to a group of special people who don’t know the word “retirement.”

And he answered: “Mr. Elpi, even with my old age, I still want to render public service because it is in my heart. I love doing it and I find satisfaction whenever I see a student benefit from what I do, even in a very little way.”

He served as a mentor and a role model to the students, helping them with their assignments, assisting them in their cognitive activities and providing positive encouragement. He was a big help to the students, especially in Algebra and other math subjects, where most of the students are struggling.

My colleagues in the San Jose Job Corps Center also shared their fondest memories with Grandpa Avelino.

Math Teacher Annie Zacharia said: “I had the pleasure of being in the company of Grandpa Avelino for the past four years. He supported my Math classes all those years. My students and I loved grandpa’s presence in our class. If on any day the county transportation brought him very late to the center, he would apologize and would not take the school break as he needed to make up for coming late. He loved math and like to challenge himself. In January 2020, grandpa told me that he cannot come in again as he needed to take care of his wife. He was always very concerned about her. Even after the center closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, I used to keep in touch with him. He told me that he still works on math problems every day. So, I’m sure he is continuing to work on those Math problems up in heaven.”

Amritha Matthews, our finance manager, said: “We all, as well as students, loved Grandpa so much. I have many memorable moments with Grandpa. I love him so much and miss him.”

Another Math Teacher Glen McFarren: “From April 2007 until I retired in January 2016, Grandpa Avelino was by my side every day helping me with the students in math class. The students frequently asked why I called him grandpa when he was just a few years older than me. He was named grandpa, as were some others in our San Jose Job Corps training program, because he volunteered to take the role of a grandparent to our students, offering them academic and psychological support while in school. His presence had a very positive effect on the students and the staff he met at Job Corps, and I will always remember Grandpa Avelino as an outstanding person that I was fortunate to know in my life. God bless Grandpa Avelino for setting such a high standard of love and devotion to me and my classes.”

Career Development Director Philip George shared: “Grandpa Avelino was a scholar, a gentleman, and was a very accommodating person to our staff and our students. He was the best thing that ever happened to Job Corps. We will surely miss him.”

Our Center Director Leslie Gilroy said: “He was such a nice and loving soul.”GED Instructor Denis Marks said: “I worked with Grandpa Avelino for several years in the Math Room at San Jose Job Corps. If there was a problem, I couldn’t help a student with (quadratic equations come to mind), I would ask my most excellent helper, Grandpa, to work with him/her one-on-one at his desk and he would patiently, graciously and lovingly guide them through the steps toward the solution. His presence had a calming effect on the students and on me. He deserved the respect and appreciation given to him. It was a sad day when he came here no more and an even sadder day to learn of his death. He’s up in heaven now helping God with his multitudinous math problems and looking down and smiling at us.”

Likewise, the foster grandparent program did a good job in Hawaii and has touched many lives of students and residents in the community.

According to the Hawaii Department of Human Services website, the Foster Grandparents Program honored 25 volunteers who served Hawaii schools and students in a special luncheon ceremony at the Pagoda Hotel in 2016.

In 2015, a total of 120 foster grandparents served 420 elementary and Head Start students, volunteering more than 100,000 hours.

Furthermore, more than 85% of the children foster grandparents served achieved their educational goals because of the Foster Grandparents Program volunteers.

Alice Ziegler, an assistant teacher at Waimānalo Pre-Plus Head Start, said this of one foster grandparent: “She’s a dedicated and hardworking grandma, and we feel grateful for having her.”

Another teacher from Kamaile Academy said the volunteer in her classroom “does many things in the classroom, the most important is being a trusted Aunty who will listen to students who need that extra loving adult in their lives.”

The Hawaii Foster Grandparent Program is temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The foster grandparents don’t know how to retire, they keep on working to make a big difference in the community!

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.

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