PROVO -- Utah County could use a lot more Muriel Rigbys.

In fact, Cheri Teasdale, an administrative assistant in the Foster Grandparents program in Utah Valley, says it would be nice to have at least a dozen more.Rigby is the resident grandma at the Slate Canyon Youth Center. Joe Myer is the resident grandpa.

Both are volunteer grandparents who do what they can with their spare time to help society's troubled youths.

"We have 78 foster grandparents right now," said Teasdale. "We could easily do with 85 to 90, and then we could get more funding for still more.

"We've never been able to get too many."

The foster grandparents serve all over the county, in the baby nurseries at the local hospitals, in elementary schools, in the Utah State Hospital in Provo, at the Developmental Center in American Fork, at Kids on the Move in Orem -- anywhere they're needed.

Sometimes they just listen. Some, like the grandmas at the Utah State Hospital, cook a hot breakfast for patients. Other times they offer a shoulder to cry on or a friendly hug.

"I started in the summer at the Observation and Assessment Center in Springville," Rigby said. "Before that I was helping at Sage Creek Elementary. I just noticed a lot of these kids needed a little extra love and attention, so I came up here. I do give them a hug now and then."

Rigby has been a foster grandparent for 10 years. She now spends most of her time at the youth center from 8:30 until 2:15 each weekday.

She generally helps in the classrooms teaching math and offers herself as a friend to kids who sometimes stay at the center for as long as a year.

"I goof around with them. Today, this one kid came in growling so I growled back. Pretty soon, the teacher asked him if he felt better. He said yes, he'd let off some steam."

Grandma Rigby may play, but she isn't taken lightly, said Randy Elkington, a supervisor at the youth center. "The kids know you don't mess with Grandma. She's not easily manipulated or fooled. For that reason, they're very protective of her. They respect her."

Rigby says that's because she's raised five of her own plus she has 27 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. She's used to kids. She's also a licensed practical nurse who has worked with youths all of her adult life.

"I'm not intimidated," she said. "I like this."

The small stipend she's paid for her service comes in handy, she said, particularly since it comes in the middle of the month after the Social Security check's been spent.

But she isn't a foster grandparent for the money. She just likes having something worthwhile to do with her days.

"I think everybody that's retired, if they want something to do, should consider this kind of thing. They would get a lot more out of it than they put in."

Teasdale said it isn't difficult to become a foster grandparent. A man or woman simply has to be over 60, in reasonably good health and willing to commit to 20 hours a week in service.

New grandparents go through a background check, attend a 40-hour orientation and are taught about the kinds of programs available to them and to those they help.

Couples may volunteer, and in some instances, arrangements can be made for transportation to and from a "job site." Grandparents can serve as long as they like.

"We have one 92-year-old. One grandma has served for 25 years."

Teasdale is always recruiting new and more grandparents. "We leave fliers everywhere we can. We're going to start knocking door-to-door if we have to," she said. "We know there are tons of people out there who could benefit from this and who have something to give."

Service has been proven to lengthen life and improve the quality of that life, she said.

And those they serve benefit, too.

"For a lot of children, it's the only experience they have with a grandparent. With some of these tough kids, only a grandma or grandpa can break through," Teasdale said.

"These people fill a unique niche. We just need more of them."

With Utah County's population reaching more than 340,000, there's plenty of potential for expansion of the foster grandparenting program, she said. "Who know where it could go?"

To contact the Foster Grandparents program, call 370-8384.