Frankovic connects to local youth through foster grandparent program
MIDDLEBURY — A commitment to helping others through public service has long been much more than a hobby for Tom Frankovic of Addison.
Before moving to Vermont, the New Jersey native channeled a desire to help those around him into a 30-year career that included a stint as a medic in the U.S. Marines and 25 years on his local police force. When he eventually retired to Middlebury a decade and a half ago, an opportunity to help students navigate the ups and downs of college life as the head of public safety at Middlebury College convinced him to stretch his professional life in community service another six years.
Frankovic, 74, is now retired for good, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to throw his benevolent energy into helping others. As a volunteer for the Addison County Foster Grandparent program, Frankovic has for the past 11 years spent between 15 and 40 hours per week working with kids at the Otter Creek Child Center on Weybridge Street.
“I bounce around, I go from room to room, hang out with the kids, read to them, play with them … and every day when I leave, I can’t wait to go back,” he said.
The Green Mountain Foster Grandparent Program, a federally funded program that serves Addison, Rutland and Bennington counties, sends older adult volunteers to childcare centers and other organizations that serve children. They are required to spend a minimum of 15 hours per week at their assigned center. The volunteers provide “mentorship and role modeling” for kids at the centers, according to the program’s website.
Frankovic says he found out about the program through a posting in the Addison Independent in 2007. He thought the job might offer a nice distraction from some of the boredom of retirement: although he has long enjoyed fishing and coin collecting, Frankovic felt that something was missing, and the chance to be around young people again (his favorite thing about working at the college) was intriguing.
“I’m glad I saw it in the paper that one time, I really am, because I was just hanging around doing nothing,” he said. “I live right on Lake Champlain, right on the water, and it’s nice but I got tired of just looking out the window all the time until this came along.”
When he began with the program he was hooked right away.
“I go home every day happy,” he said. “That’s probably what I take away the most is just being happy being there.”
Frankovic develops personal relationships with many of the kids at the Otter Creek center through activities such as reading, playtime and general “hanging out.” More than anything, he says, it’s about being in the moment with kids who sometimes come from single-parent households and lack elderly role models that he and the other volunteers provide.
Frankovic acknowledged that while working with young people is something he loves, it can be exhausting and isn’t for everyone.
“I’m not saying you have to be a special person, but it’s not really for everyone,” he said. “Building up tolerance with a bunch of little kids, some people have a hard time doing that. (That said), I have yet to meet one of those volunteers who’s not happy to be doing what they’re doing.”
In 2010, Frankovic was recognized by then-Gov. Jim Douglas for his work with the program via a Governor’s Award for Outstanding Community Service. Thinking back on his 11 years with the program, he recalls that award as one of his proudest moments.
Overall, Frankovic is just grateful to have the chance to spend time with the kids every day, and in doing so to “just help out” — an outlook that he says he has tried to apply to his life since he himself was young.
“The 11 years I’ve been there, it’s been absolutely priceless,” he said. “One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in life. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
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