- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Denise Barnes interviewed Mary Aline Proctor, a long-serving volunteer with the Foster Grandparent Program in Prince George's County, Md.

Question: How did you learn about the Foster Grandparent Program?
Answer: Well, I was going to the Senior Center in Brandywine, Md., and a lady asked me if I wanted to be a foster grandparent. I said I would try. I've been doing it ever since. I had no idea back then that I would stay with the program this long, but I have. It's the children who keep me involved with the program.
My first assignment was at Edgemeade Home for Boys [now the Raymond A. Rodgers Jr. School]. We were there to give the boys support and tender loving care. Sometimes we helped them with their class work, but mostly we were there for support. I stayed there for six or seven years, and I enjoyed helping them.
In 1983, I left the boys home and went to a day care center on Brandywine Road that's the year the Redskins went to the Super Bowl. I would help the little children by teaching them how to make their alphabets, and I'd go outside with them during recess. When nap time rolled around, I would rub each of their backs and lull them to sleep.
When the day care center closed, I went to Brandywine Elementary School, and I became the first foster grandparent to go into the public schools. I was interviewed on television Channel 4 covered the story. I really was supposed to be in the Catholic Standard [weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington]. They called me once and they didn't call back, so they missed the story.
Q: What are your responsibilities?
A: Right now, I am working with 19 kindergartners at Brandywine Elementary School and helping the teacher, Mrs. [DeeAnn] Leebel in the classroom. She's very nice and very patient with the children. I help the little ones learn to write their names and their alphabets. You know, some of the children catch on faster than others, so I might take a group of three off to the side in the classroom and work with them one on one.
I participate in all the activities during the school day. When I walk into the classroom in the mornings, everyone jumps up and hugs me and says, "Hi Grandma." The school goes up to sixth grade, and the sixth-graders greet me with a "Hi, Grandma." Even the cooks, the teachers and Mr. [Thomas] Couteau, the principal, call me Grandma, and it really makes my day.
I've had a lot of experience with children from raising my own, and I never tire of children. People can't believe I raised 11 children, and I'm still working with them, but I just love children.
Q: You could spend your days relaxing, why do you get up at the crack of dawn to go to work?
A: I think when people get older and I'm 90 years old you feel like you aren't needed any longer. But when I walk into the classroom, the children always greet me, and that makes me feel worthwhile. I'm telling you, if I stayed at home and did nothing next thing, I would be in the rocking chair. So I just keep going. Besides, the little ones keep me young.
I work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. four days a week, so when Thursday comes around I'm glad. I get up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and go to church every day before I go to school.
I attend Mass at St. Michael's Church in Baden, Md., then I come home and have my breakfast before the bus picks me up between 9 and 9:15 a.m.
Did you know, when the program first started, we had our own van with our name on it Foster Grandparents up until the 1980s? But I still get door-to-door service thanks to the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation.
I don't get tired during the day. I get home about 2 p.m., and I get in the bed and I rest for an hour or two, and then I feel like a new person.
I don't really have any hobbies other than going to work and going to church.
On Friday, I go to Father [Robert S.] Pittman's the Body of Christ farm in [Waldorf], Md. He's trying to work with children and get them involved with the church. I help teach catechism classes. Some of the children are a little boisterous, but I suggest they be quiet and pay attention to what is being taught.
Q: Do the foster grandparents get a opportunity to socialize as a group?
A: Once a year we have a special day for volunteers. It's a recognition luncheon, which is held in May. That's when we honor our older volunteers. We have a lovely lunch, and special certificates are awarded if a person has participated in the program for so many years.
I got an award last year for 25 years of service. I was touched, and that made me feel good. I believe in this program: So many children don't have grandparents or they're far away from their grandparents. And the foster grandparents make the children feel loved.
Usually all foster grandparent volunteers attend the luncheon in May, which is held during Older Americans Month. There's a total of 600 volunteers who actually attend the luncheon, which also includes volunteers from different programs. County Executive Wayne Curry attended last year, and I had my picture taken with him. I have it here at the house. It made me feel good, and I was honored. I received an Outstanding Volunteer Award since I am the oldest and have been in the program the longest. Also in December, we have a holiday luncheon for the foster grandparents, and it's especially nice when we can all get together.
Q: Do you take a break when school closes for summer recess?
A: The Foster Grandparent Program runs year-round, so when school closes in June, I go to Edgemeade [Raymond A. Rodgers Junior School] and spend time with the boys until the last week of August. I stay on the go year-round because it keeps me going. Some of youth are 18 or 19 years old, and it's certainly a big change from working with the little ones.
A few of the boys can be a little rough, but they always give the foster grandparents a lot of respect. There's no specific curriculum I think it's just our being there. A lot of the young men don't have grandparents. So, if they have problems they can talk to us and we can offer them some advice.

The Prince George's County Department of Family Services, Aging Services Division, offers a variety of programs and services for senior citizens living in Prince George's County. For information, call 301/699-2696.


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