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Foster grandparents mentoring southeast Wyoming kids
May 09

By JOEL FUNK
Wyoming Eagle Tribune

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ Braydon Nelson and Dorothyann ``Dot'' Basse haven't known each other for very long. But in that short time, they've made a considerable difference in shaping each other's lives.

Braydon and Basse are participants in the Southeast Wyoming Foster Grandparent Program. Foster grandparents are mentors for young people who have a variety of special needs in Laramie, Goshen, Platte and Converse counties. Volunteers serve in schools, Head Start programs, Boys and Girls clubs, safe house shelters and developmental centers to help children learn to read, provide one-on-one tutoring and guide children at critical times in their lives.

Basse first started in the program because she had a void in her life. She had enjoyed the time she spent taking care of her granddaughter and autistic grandson before the child's mother, who was a truck driver, decided to take them back.

``I just kind of felt empty,'' Basse said. ``There was this giant void because the kids weren't there anymore. It was a strange feeling.''

A television advertisement for the Foster Grandparent Program intrigued Basse, so she decided to get involved. That was nine years ago, and since then, Basse has been involved with children at Cheyenne's Triumph High day care. She helps with the young children in the day care for most of the day, then works with the high school student parents on home and parenting skills for another portion.

And that was how it went for Basse until the third quarter of the school year.

CREATING A PARTNERSHIP

It's been a school year with some bumps in the road for Triumph freshman Braydon. He's a bright young man who loves video games, skateboarding, riding bikes and generally horsing around with his brothers.

When it came to his English and sports marketing courses, however, he was failing. It left him feeling a lack of confidence and that trying to improve his situation just wasn't worth it, Braydon said.

``I used to never want to come to school,'' he said. ``I've always wanted to go skydiving, so when I was at school, I'd just pretend I was skydiving. But my parachute never opened.''

Braydon was in serious danger of stymieing his scholastic path. He said he realized he might end up going down the wrong road in a way that could shape his life for the worse.

But in the third quarter of the school year, Braydon was introduced to Basse.

At first, Basse felt a little apprehensive.

``I thought, `I'm not sure; it's been a long time since I've worked with bigger kids,''' she said.

It didn't take long, however, for the two to start getting along.

``Actually, at the beginning, we started to get along really fast,'' Braydon said. ``She helped me with all my work to get me higher grades than I ever thought I'd have. '

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

The Foster Grandparents Program is one of three programs that make up Senior Corps in Wyoming. In 2017, 970 Cowboy State senior volunteers served more than 216,000 hours as part of the programs. That same year saw 65 foster grandparents serving at-risk youth through 22 volunteer stations throughout southeast Wyoming.

Of the K-12 students with foster grandparent mentors, 625 demonstrated improved academic performance in literacy, math or both. There were also 148 children in early childhood education who demonstrated gains in social or emotional development or both.

``When you hear those numbers, it gives me goose bumps,'' Judi Johnston, Foster Grandparent program director, told volunteers and guests during the annual Senior Corps Week Luncheon on Thursday in Cheyenne. ``It's amazing what a small organization can do in our community, and that's just in our corner of the state.''

Even with the strong showing of volunteers the Foster Grandparents Program sees today, Johnston said she is always seeking more. Volunteers must be 55 or older, meet income eligibility guidelines and be available 15-40 hours a week.

THE FEELING'S MUTUAL

Through note cards, study guidance and any other help Basse could provide, Braydon started to improve. Today, he's passing both the courses he was failing.

``I don't think your mom believed us in the beginning that your grades were actually going up,'' Basse said to Braydon with a big smile. ``She made his teachers call her and tell her that, yes, he was doing the work.''

Braydon not only likes going to school now, but said he is also looking toward the future. An avid video game fan, he said he'd like to go to college to learn to develop his own. It's going to take a lot of work, he said. Like many high school students, Braydon said math isn't really his thing. But he's confident now, he said, that he can put in the work to achieve his goals.

And for a young man who previously didn't like English at all, Braydon said he's been reading lately _ a lot.

``I was reading last night,'' he said. ``I didn't even play video games, which surprised me.''

With Basse's guidance, Braydon said he feels like he's on the right path.

``It's like I ran into one (road) and another, and I picked the right way,'' he said.

It's been rewarding for Basse too, she said.

``I feel good that he's starting to know that he knows more than he thinks he knows,'' Basse said.

Through the program, Basse said she's been able to make up for what she lost a decade ago.

``It fills the void,'' she said. ``I stay busy.''

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com


By The Associated Press, Copyright 2018

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