Mrs. Reagan's Support of Foster Grandparents

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Senior Corps Grantees - 

On March 7, 2016, the Corporation released a blog post entitled, Mrs. Reagan’s Legacy of Supporting Foster Grandparents. Below is the blog post that is on the CNCS Official Blog.

Mrs. Reagan's Legacy of Supporting Foster Grandparents

     By Wendy Spencer


 Yesterday we learned of the passing of one of our nation’s most prominent supporters of Senior Corps Foster Grandparents, former First Lady Nancy Reagan. We join the nation in mourning one of the brightest lights to ever shine beside a president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As the tributes to Mrs. Reagan’s life continue, the stories paint a portrait of a woman with amazing depth, a tremendous drive, and fierce loyalty. Traits the former screen actress would call upon in her greatest role as wife to the love of her life, President Ronald Reagan.

While some will focus on Mrs. Reagan’s support as a vital factor behind her husband’s rise from the Governor’s Mansion in California to the Oval Office in Washington, Mrs. Reagan’s contributions to our country will be remembered in many different ways. 

Mrs. Reagan first learned about Foster Grandparents in 1967 while visiting a school for physically and emotionally handicapped children as the First Lady of California and continued to lend her encouragement as the program marked its 50th anniversary in 2015.

When Mrs. Reagan came to Washington, she helped elevate the Foster Grandparent program’s profile on the national stage by making site visits, speaking at a Foster Grandparent national conference in 1981, and discussing the program on national TV. Mrs. Reagan also co-authored a book about Foster Grandparents, “To Love a Child,” that inspired a song of the same name that was recorded by Frank Sinatra, which both donated their sales proceeds to benefit the program.

The former First Lady understood the benefit of the intergenerational exchanges taking place through Foster Grandparents: “It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen because it benefits both sides: children, who need love, and grandparents, elderly people, who need to feel wanted.”

Mrs. Reagan continued to work on behalf of the program for her eight years in the White House and her support helped the program grow. By 1985, Foster Grandparents were serving approximately 65,000 children through 245 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Today, the program Mrs. Reagan championed continues to thrive.  In 2015, Foster Grandparent volunteers served more than 189,000 children. In fact, as we celebrated the program’s 50th anniversary last year, Mrs. Reagan wrote, “It is tremendously gratifying to me that the program has continued to grow all these years, providing love and attention to special needs children as well as new purpose and enrichment to the lives of the seniors who volunteer.”

President Obama said of Mrs. Reagan’s passing, “Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here. Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer’s, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.”

We are saddened by the loss of Mrs. Reagan, who was not only one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, but also a champion for the elderly, and woman of great strength who spoke up for many who could not speak for themselves.  She will be greatly missed.

Wendy Spencer is the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service through AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Social Innovation Fund, and leads the President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve.