Rosa Mae Barnes, 74, served as a foster grandparent for 10 years at the Salvation Army's Early Learning Center before retiring recently.
"We are really going to miss her because she was good with the children," said Marie Spicer, a teacher there.
Magdalena Golinska, director of the center, agreed, saying, "She gave the children extra attention. She was always the one that helped the children who had special needs."
Now, since Barnes' retirement, the center doesn't have a volunteer who can comfort the children who have separation anxiety, who need extra comforting to fall asleep at nap time, who desire the special love of a grandparent while parents work.
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And, unfortunately, if the Republicans in Washington get their way with $61 billion in cuts to the current federal budget, there won't be anyone in the wings to take Barnes' place in the future.
Under the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, Senior Corps — which hosts the Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions programs and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) — would lose its funding and fade away.
The cuts would be immediate, stripping funding that was approved in October and under which Senior Corps has operated for five months.
The $1 billion budgeted for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates Senior Corps and AmeriCorps, must have looked like an easy, painless cut to rein in spending.
But it is not painless.
CNCS will commit more than $18 million to Kentucky through its service programs, serving more than 37,000 people at non-profits, schools and faith-based groups. According to the CNCS Web site, Kentucky has 681 foster grandparents serving in six programs across the state.
Lenora Kaye Shanks, a foster grandparent who serves at Big Blue Bird Child Care Center, said the program not only gives her a reason to get up every morning — she's 57 and medically disabled — but it also benefits the special children in her care.
Foster grandparents read to, console and work with children who need extra help. They are trained at the Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties, which hosts the program, and they earn a stipend of $2.65 an hour.
The volunteers feel needed and the children feel loved. Do we really think that won't be missed?
But dismantling CNCS is just the beginning of cuts that passed the House by a vote of 235-189 on Feb. 19.
Jack Burch, director of the Community Action Council, said his organization would no longer exist as we know it if Community Service Block Grants are eliminated as planned. The emergency assistance, child development, home weatherization, income tax assistance, Head Start and volunteer programs would either be eliminated or dramatically reduced, he said.
"All those things we couldn't support any more," Burch said. "There might be the name, but there wouldn't be the community action we know."
Fortunately, a bipartisan group of the nation's mayors has also come out in opposition to the block grant cuts.
While some of the cuts are being proposed by President Barack Obama's administration for the 2012 budget, the current bill calls for the cuts to start now.
"We would have to reduce Head Start by 120 students," Burch said. "When parents came to pick up their children on Friday, we'd have to tell them not to bring them back on Monday."
Reducing the number of children would also reduce the number of foster grandparents who are needed. And foster grandparents, Burch said, "don't even get minimum wage. It grabs your heart when you go into a classroom and see them holding a child who is upset that day.
"I am crossing my fingers that reason will prevail. But the public needs to know," Burch said.
Maj. Debra Ashcraft of the Salvation Army said senior volunteers have filled a need at her organization, not only in child care but also as volunteer receptionists from RSVP, keeping costs down.
And we shouldn't forget how the seniors benefit from the volunteer programs.
"It helps them make ends meet and it does something for them emotionally. It lifts their spirits. I can see it in their faces," Ashcraft said.
Rosa Barnes agreed.
"I hated to go," she said, adding that arthritis pain in her knee made her give it up.
She danced with children and sang with them, soothed them and talked to them, she said.
"I miss those little children," Barnes said. "I really enjoyed it. I've told a whole bunch of people about the program."
It's programs like these that help the little people, the poor, the voiceless and the hungry.
Barnes, Shanks and people like them should be emulated, not eliminated.