Jennings woman given award for helping elderly, children

A longtime Jennings County resident who started a program now used around the state that features volunteer senior citizens helping at-risk students received a surprise award for her contributions.

Family members escorted Marilyn Morin, seated in her wheelchair, into the North Vernon Educational Center on Wednesday, where representatives of North Vernon, Columbus, Seymour, Greensburg and Madison, North Vernon and Seymour along with 67 foster grandparent volunteers and executives of the Thrive Alliance program, waited for her arrival.

There she received the Sagamore of the Wabash, an award bestowed by the governor of Indiana to recognize Hoosiers for distinguished service to their communities, the state or the governor.

The surprise ceremony organized by the staff of Thrive Alliance, a non-profit that provides social and human services to residents of south-central Indiana, honored Morin’s more than 40 years of volunteer work with the elderly and children.

Story continues below gallery

“You have kind of outdone yourselves with arranging this, but I really don’t like surprises,” said a smiling but teary-eyed Morin, when she realized the room was filled with people waiting to honor her.

Marcia DeBock, current director of the Foster Grandparent Program of South Central Indiana, credited Morin for founding it in Indiana in 1973.

The Foster Grandparent Program is a volunteer program designed to bring senior citizens together with at-risk school children. Students may be at risk because of academics, behavior or some other problem that is affecting their ability to learn, DeBock said.

“Under the direction of the classroom teacher, a Foster Grandparent becomes a nurturing tutor and a friend to a child on a one-to-one basis. They help children develop the emotional, social, behavioral and academic skills they need in school and in life,” DeBock said.

“During the school year, the relationship becomes a plus for both the Foster Grandparent and student,” DeBock added.

Morin, a former Madison resident, began her work in community service by recruiting senior citizens for volunteer work in the government agency called Senior Corps. By 1978, Morin had recruited more than 300 senior citizen volunteers to serve in Madison-area schools, the Madison state hospital, nursing homes and the Red Cross.

Morin also established and managed a Foster Grandparent Program at Muscatatuck Developmental Center, and moved her residency to Jennings County.

Because the program at Muscatatuck achieved success, she was asked in 1989 by the Agency on Aging to develop a school-based Foster Grandparent Program in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings counties.

The model Morin established for her volunteer programs and the Foster Grandparent Program are still used by the National Corporation for Community Service, and her Foster Grandparent Program still is thriving in the original south-central Indiana counties. The program is currently functioning in 33 schools.

During the 2016-17 school year, Foster Grandparents volunteered 47,532 hours of service to school children and Head Start centers in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson and Jennings Counties.

Morin retired from active service in 2006, but passed the program on to Thrive Alliance, and still serves as a member of the Foster Grandparent Program Advisory Council.

In addition to the Sagamore, Morin received a Crystal Award from the Foster Grandparents Program, and several plaques. She addressed the 67 volunteer Foster Grandparents in the room, saying the awards really were about all the volunteers.

“Every grandparent in a classroom is there to listen, to love and to give a hug. You have listened, you have loved unconditionally, you have made them believe,” Morin told the volunteers.

Morin said she had seen more than 550 volunteer Foster Grandparents, some of whom had overcome hardships in their own lives, go to schools to help children.

Morin quoted a former student’s words to his Foster Grandparent: “You believed in me, you listened to me, you made me believe in myself.”