Sometimes when John Mosley Sr. is in the grocery store, he will hear an excited young voice call out to him.
On such occasions, Mosley smiles and readies himself for an onslaught of second-grade affection.
“They’ll be screaming out. They’ll run and grab me and hug me,” he said. “Just a joy.”
Mosley, 60, is one of 76 active volunteers this year in the city of Jacksonville’s Foster Grandparent program and has past and current foster grandchildren all over town. For six years, he has been a mentor, tutor and grandfather-figure for at-risk and special-needs second graders at Spring Park Elementary School.
“It’s been amazing, seeing their growth and potential,” he said. “The kids have taught me more than I taught them.”
Northeast Florida grandparents of all kinds will be celebrated Sunday at a National Grandparents Day event at historic St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville. The event is sponsored by ElderSource, a regional nonprofit that helps “seniors live with as much dignity and independence as possible,” said executive director Linda Levin.
One of the most rewarding volunteer options for them, she said, is the Foster Grandparents program.
Nationwide, there are about 280,00 Foster Grandparents and Jacksonville has an average of 100 seniors participating every year. The local program is in 35 mostly elementary schools, as well as Head Start and day-care centers, serving students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It gives the older adults the opportunity to share their experience, wisdom and support for children in need. The intergenerational relationship is fantastic and rewarding for everyone,” said Levin.
Foster grandparents must be at least 55 years old, in good physical and mental health and have 15 to 30 hours a week to contribute. The ideal candidate is “someone who is willing to give up their time and has a passion for children and making a difference in the community,” said program manager Richard Green.
Mosley, who is also part of the ministry at The House of Refuge church in Arlington, met all the criteria and became a model foster grandparent. In 2013 and 2015, he won the local Foster Grandparent program’s volunteer of the year award.
“He has done some amazing things,” said Green.
Mosley wanted to volunteer with children and when he found out about he could help them in the classroom he rejoiced. He did not spend as much time with his own children as would have liked, he said, and being a foster grandparent in a school gave him a “second chance.”
Mosley spends 30 hours a week in teacher Sharron Patterson’s Spring Park Elementary classroom, helping students who, for a variety of reasons, started the school year unable to spell, read, speak English or communicate at all. In addition to academic help, he provides the mushy grandparent stuff — love, encouragement and hugs — that some of them might not get much of at home.
He also builds their confidence.
“They can do anything they want to do. They can go as far as they want to go,” Mosley said.
Under Patterson’s and Mosley’s guidance, most of the children improve their achievement by the end of the school year, if not sooner. Mosley remembered a former student who was from Mexico and did not speak a word of English. With their help, by the second quarter of the year, “he was reading to me in English,” Mosley said. That student now has his own business — a food truck, he said.
“That made me feel … like I was a giant,” he said.
Some of his former students occasionally return to Spring Park, just to see Grandpa Mosley.
“I love seeing them. They’re part of my family,” he said. “To see them come up, it’s so powerful.”
Teacher Patterson was nervous when she returned to the classroom in 2013 after working in a district-level job. Mosley helped ease her transition and her workload, she said. His impact shows in her still being in the classroom and in the students’ improved test scores, she said.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I was so excited to have the extra help.”
She said Mosley “does more than he has to,” including leading the school’s parent-teacher group when there was no one else available, helping buy shoes for a child who needed them and paying for a class pizza party.
Students Jayden and Sammy said Mosley helped them with reading. Jayden said Mosley also helped him with math. They gave him the thumbs-up as a classroom grandfather.
“He’s a nice, cool guy,” Sammy said.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109