During more than a half-century of sports writing, Ray Schwartz looked up to 7-foot basketball players. On Monday, first lady Barbara Bush looked up to him - even though he sat in a wheelchair.
She shook his hand, patted him on the back and honored him for working four hours a day, five days a week befriending teenage delinquents and listening to their problems in the Provo Juvenile Detention Center.Schwartz, 71, was one of 27 outstanding volunteers that Mrs. Bush invited to the White House to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ACTION's Foster Grandparents Program and to symbolically represent the 27,000 senior citizens who serve through it each year.
The first lady also sounded a clarion call for more older volunteers to serve the nation's youth.
"Someone once said that getting old means that you know all of the answers but no one asks you the questions," Mrs. Bush said. "Foster Grandparents makes it possible for some very important questions to be asked by young people who need to know the answers."
But she told the volunteers, "We're running out of you, and we've got to find more people and tell them that they are needed."
She recounted how sad it is for her to see scores of hospital "border babies" with AIDS who need the love of foster grandparents. Then looking at her speech, she said, "I see here that I'm supposed to end on a high, happy note," as the audience laughed. "So go out and recruit some more people."
Her message was received loud and clear long ago by Schwartz, who has volunteered 20 hours a week for six years at the Provo Detention Center.
Meanwhile, he still works part time for the Provo Herald - from which he retired in 1983 - covering the Utah Jazz, football and other sports.
Schwartz, who once dreamed of becoming a high school football coach, now coaches many of his teenage friends at the detention center.
"A lot of the kids at the center don't have much of a home life," said Schwartz, who has seven grandchildren of his own. "So we talk about their problems and about sports."
Schwartz said he and another volunteer, Joe Meyere, act as teacher's aides every day in the classroom at the detention center. "We also become their confidants."
The youths he works with range from a 13-year-old who had to fend for herself after her mother's death when her father told her he wanted nothing to do with her to another youth whose parents are serving time in thestate prison.
"Ray has such good rapport with the kids, you wouldn't believe it," said Charles Dearing, Foster Grandparent Program director for Provo. "He's a good granddad. The kids like him and they'll listen to him."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was at the White House ceremony, said: "I'm proud of Ray and the work he does. Foster Grandparents is a wonderful volunteer program."
The Foster Grandparent Program offers low-income people age 60 or older the chance to provide companionship and guidance to physically, emotionally and mentally handicapped children, and children who are abused, neglected, in the juvenile justice system or who have other special needs.
Most foster grandparents are assigned to individual children on a one-to-one basis. They are given a modest, tax-free stipend to help cover costs; transportation; a meal while in service; accident and liability insurance; and an annual physical examination.
Some senior citizens who earn more than 125 percent of the poverty level serve without a stipend, but receive the other benefits.
Mrs. Bush told the volunteers that the youths they serve "are better people for having had your special attention."