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Lightning Foundation Grant Spotlight: Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay

by Erin Chenderlin / Tampa Bay Lightning

On April 23, the Lightning Foundation awarded grants to 16 local organizations totaling $120,500 at the Community Awards and Donor Recognition Reception. Grant applicants were asked to detail their organizations and give a proposed program or project, along with a description of how it qualifies under the Lightning Foundation's funding guidelines. The Foundation's Board of Directors selected the 16 organizations. is profiling each of the organizations and the grant they received. Check back daily for a new organization and see how the Lightning Foundation is truly fulfilling its mission to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play.

Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay

The Lightning Foundation, through a first-time grant, is helping bring together different generations in the Tampa Bay community.

Through a grant awarded to Seniors in Service of Tampa Bay, Inc., the Lightning Foundation is helping an organization that strives to bridge generations of people in its community and bring them together to help one another. The Seniors in Service mission is to recruit, train and place volunteers to help children succeed and elders to remain independent.

"Our average age of a volunteer is 73 or 74," said Grace Puterman, President and CEO of Seniors in Service. "We have volunteers who serve the youngest in the community, they're called foster grandparents. Our other core of volunteers is seniors who serve seniors, helping those elderly people who are frail and so much of the time home alone, still remain independent in their own homes."

Puterman said Seniors in Service has more than 300 volunteers in the community every week, helping more than 1,700 people. When helping the older citizens throughout the community, volunteers may take care of food shopping or meal preparation. They may also do light laundry or housekeeping, anything to help these people remain independent and enjoying life.

On the other end of the spectrum is the work these volunteers do with disadvantaged children throughout the Tampa Bay area. That's where the Lightning Foundation comes into play. The Foundation provided a grant to help fund the Bridging Generations through Literacy program. In the program, Seniors in Service provide volunteers, called foster grandparents, to classrooms throughout Tampa Bay. Puterman said 90 percent of the volunteers work in Hillsborough County, helping children from kindergarten through third grade.

"The teachers will identity children in their classrooms who are really in most need of assistance, and those children are matched with a foster grandparent," Puterman said.

Puterman said the foster grandparents, who Seniors in Service try to place in their own neighborhood schools, work with the children individually for about 30-45 minutes each school day, working on age-appropriate skills to help the children increase their reading level and literacy skills.

"It's not just those finite reading skills, but it's those communications skills," she said. "All of this so the children hopefully will have some degree of success and feel good about themselves and will continue to succeed in school."

Puterman said feedback from teachers who have foster grandparents in their classrooms has been nothing but positive. She said 100 percent of the students who receive help show improvement.

The Lightning Foundation grant will go toward providing funding for more than 1,200 hours of literacy tutoring. With the extra funding, Puterman said she hopes to reach 240 children during the 2008-09 school year; 40 more than last year. She also hopes to be able to place a total of 46 foster grandparents, up from last year's 30.

"Every year, because we get more community support, we can expand the program," Puterman said. "That's significant. All these kids need is that one-on-one attention."

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