Foster Grandparents Spread Love and Hugs at Orange County’s Head Start Program

Community & Services

Vernay Cox is proud to have five grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The 75-year-old long-time Orlando resident delights in the fact that 17 other preschoolers call her “grandma” at Orange County’s Callahan Head Start School on Parramore Street. Cox has been a volunteer foster grandparent at Orange County’s Head Start Program for a decade.

The Foster Grandparent program began 40 years ago and connects seniors with the 1,536 children in Orange County’s Head Start program for one-on-one tutoring and mentoring with the students. About half of the classes in Head Start are assigned a Foster Grandparent. There are nearly 35 Foster Grandparents in the program in Orange County. This past year, Foster Grandparents have collectively donated 24,517 volunteer hours – and the dollar value of these volunteer hours equates to an impressive $411,170.

When Cox retired from Orange County Public Schools’ daycare program, she wanted to continue to stay active and do more for her community.

“These kids help keep me young. My favorite thing is when we have free play time with the little kitchen,” Cox said. “The kids have such active imaginations. They take food orders and serve such delightful meals. They are hilarious. It is such a joy to interact with them.”

Callahan Head Start director Toinette Stenson says the Foster Grandparent Program is such a wonderful inter-generational program and the grandparents provide extra hands and ears needed in the classroom to better serve the social and emotional development of the children.

“Head Start’s Foster Grandparent Program is a superb initiative,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. “Foster grandparents offer unconditional love, guidance and support to vulnerable children – gifts that are truly priceless. Vernay Cox, a long-term foster grandmother, exemplifies the type of warm, caring and compassionate individual that the Foster Grandparent Program is built upon. Her dedicated service shows how deeply she cares for our children, and sets a tremendous example for our entire community. I’m so proud to salute Vernay and all of our wonderful foster-grands.”

According to the annual Volunteering and Civic Life in America report by the Corporation for National & Community Service, more than 21 million Americans who are 55 and older, contributed more than 3.3 billion hours of service in their communities – with a yearly economic benefit valued at $78 billion.

To learn more about Orange County’s Head Start Foster Grandparent Program, e-mail Volunteer for Community Impact at volunteer@vcifl.org or call 407-298-4180.

Featured Photo: (L-R) Head Start Foster Grandparent Vernay Cox reading a story to her foster “grandkids” 3-year-old Ka’Myria, 4-year-old Ryleigh and 5-year-old Corey.

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