Andy Zakatuan knows what it’s like to face struggles as a child. He was born in a concentration camp in Stuttgart, Germany after World War II.
For him, English was a second language and something that was hard to learn. After arriving in the United States and finding his way, Andy persevered to create a better life for himself. Now, as an adult he continues to take advantage of opportunities that come his way – which included becoming a foster grandparent volunteer six years ago.
“I had an opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life,” shared Andy. “I know that every child needs help at some time, and this is my chance to contribute.”
The foster grandparent program presents older adults an opportunity to provide one-on-one and small group tutoring and mentoring to elementary school children who need additional support. It is widely known for helping students improve academically and allowing older adults to thrive by being given a sense of purpose.
Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin has overseen the program in Racine and Kenosha since 1993. Currently, it operates at 18 school sites across the two counties. During the 2018-2019 school year, 322 children formed relationships with a foster grandparent who taught them basic social skills, reading and writing.
“The impact a foster grandparent can have on a student is incredible,” explained Jeromy Moore, supervisor of the foster grandparent program. “And the impression the students make on the foster grandparents is just as meaningful. The ability for two generations to connect through education allows both to learn and grow in a supportive environment.”
Over time the need for additional student support in the classroom has continued to increase. To meet that need, Goodwill is currently looking for more foster grandparents. To become a foster grandparent, eligible adults must be 55 years of age or older, able to work a minimum of five hours per week and can travel to a Racine or Kenosha school. For those that qualify, a non-taxable stipend is paid to income-eligible senior volunteers, along with travel reimbursement.
For Andy, participating in the foster grandparent program has not only provided him with extra income, it has allowed him to give back and pass on important life lessons.
“It’s not always about schoolwork. Things in life are hard but not impossible to learn or work through. When I’m able to validate a child’s feelings or pick them up when they stumble with a tough situation, that is the best part of my day.”