'Foster grandparents' add to Broome County schools

By Matt Porter

June 2, 2014 Updated Jun 2, 2014 at 6:29 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) When 73-year-old Pat Pratt lost her husband after retiring, Pratt found a special place to help bring her out of her funk.

"I needed to get out of the house, and do things, and be with people," Pratt said.

Pratt is one of several dozen 'foster grandparents' in Broome County. The program brings low-income seniors into schools on small stipends to serve as aids in classrooms from pre-school to first grade.

For six years, Pratt has worked as a foster grandparent for kindergarten and first graders at Roosevelt Elementary.

She said the program has given her new life.

"My husband had passed away and I just needed an out," Pratt said. "To get out and do things, and feel as though I was doing something good."

When students call her "grandma," she blushes and smiles.

The foster grandparent program is run by Broome County to provide low income seniors an opportunity to spend their time in a positive way.

The county provides reimbursement for travel, a free lunch, and a $2.65 an hour stipend.

Field supervisor Virginia Jones said the program is as much for the seniors as it is for the students.

"They know they're needed because of the contribution they're making," Jones said.

Kindergarten teacher Emilie Blabac said the program gives her another hand in the classroom and it's a chance for her students to connect with a wiser generation.

"Some of them don't have grandparent relationships," Blabac said, "So this is the one time they may be able to establish a relationship with an older person."

Pratt doesn't have grandchildren of her own, but now she has a whole school full of foster grandchildren.

"They're out of this class and you see them going through the hall and they say, 'Grandma!' Or you go out shopping and some kid yells, 'Grandma!'" Pratt said. "I got all kinds of children calling me grandma, it's great."

If you are interested in participating as a 'foster grandparent' or learning more about the program, you can visit the county's website.