From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Western Washington’s Catholic Community Services to oversee Foster Grandparents Program

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Jan 16, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Dexter Thrumm (center), also known as Grandpa Dexter, is part of the Foster Grandparents Program. Thrumm has been helping children at All Saints School for some five years now. At left, from top to bottom, are All Saints first graders Claire Magnani, Sara Mackin, and Tara Tormey. At right, from top to bottom, are Chris McNaughton, Cortney Plaster, and Alex Gill. (IR photo)

Dexter Thumm of Spokane has 11 grandchildren of his own. But if you count the kids in the All Saints School primary building, that number jumps to way over 100.

Thumm – or Grandpa Dexter, as he is affectionately known at school – is a “foster grandparent.” He comes to All Saints School’s primary grade building each day from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. to help students who need an extra boost with their studies.

Who or what is a foster grandparent? The federal program matches lower-income people over 60 years of age with young people of all ages. The foster grandparents teach the youngsters – such subjects as reading and math – and help with social and other skills. More importantly, the children have positive adult role models in their lives.

In the United States in 2001 more than 30,000 foster grandparents helped 275,000 young people. The program is unique in that it pays a small stipend to its participants.

As of Jan. 1, the program is being administered in Washington state by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. For nearly 35 years previously, the Department of Social and Health Services managed the program. With the recent budget cuts, the DSHS decided to place the program into the community sector and will no longer be responsible for its administration.

Gail Dubin of CCS directs the program at the state level, and oversees a total of more than $1.1 million in federal and state funds for five regions including, Spokane. The agency was chosen from among six which applied, and Dubin said the project is a “natural extension” of the agency’s work with volunteers.

In the Spokane Diocese, the program will be managed by Catholic Charities through its Senior Services office on West Sharp in Spokane, another “natural extension.” Monique Kolonko is Catholic Charities’ senior services director and Jeannette McNally will guide the Foster Grandparent Program.

The program, along with Grandpa Dexter, have been in place at All Saints for five years now. He meets with as many as 12 children each day. He has a table and chairs set up in the volunteer office in All Saints’ primary building, and teachers send him students. Sometimes he works one-on-one with students; sometimes he will have as many as four at once.

Thumm said a friend of his pestered him for two years to join the program. He is glad he did, he said, and takes pride in telling about those he has helped. He recalled how, when his students see him outside the school, perhaps in a store, they are happy to see him and greet him enthusiastically.

McNally said no changes are anticipated in the program. There are 48 volunteers in the program and those who are assigned meet at different places throughout the city, in elementary schools and day care centers. The foster grandparents will continue to meet monthly for mutual support, training and assistance.

Grandpa Dexter heartily recommends the program to other seniors. He also suggests they not take as long as he did to make up their minds. The program not only benefits students; it also helps older people continue to make an important contribution to society. “It’s very rewarding,” Thumm said.

It’s rewarding for the school, too. “There would be a big hole to fill,” said All Saints principal Kathy Hicks, “if we didn’t have Grandpa Dexter.”

(Persons interested in knowing more about the Foster Grandparent program can visit the National Senior Corps website or call 1-800-424-8827. For local information, call McNally at (509) 328-8400.)

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