Staff Spotlight: Melody Foster

Giving back as a family has helped one of Melody Foster's kids choose a career path.

How long have you been at Georgia Tech and how did you get into volunteerism?

I've been at Georgia Tech for 19 years and I've been in the mechanical engineering chair's office the entire time. I started at the front desk and was promoted to chair's assistant a little over 18 years ago. I love my job and every day brings new challenges. I grew up in Jonesboro, Georgia and I've never moved far away — I got my degree at Clayton State and still live in Jonesboro today. I have two sons — Daniel and Jacob. I'm one of five kids and I guess volunteerism is in my blood because my parents always gave back. My mother was one of 14 kids and my father was one of three. Their thing was us was that we were going to get educated, we were going to do great things, and we were going to give back. They always said, to whom much is given, much is required.

So there were always all sorts of things they got us to do. We used to go clean up houses for older people in our neighborhood, and that kind of thing early on.

How old are your kids and how did you get them into volunteering?

My oldest son is 19. He's a first year student at Georgia Southern. The second is 16 and he's in 11th grade. The first activities they ever saw me do with them were volunteer activities in their school. I'm a big believer that parents should always be active in the schools. Teachers have a huge job nowadays, and the teachers need help. There are so many different personalities they have to deal with and so many things they have to teach — if your child or their teacher never see your face in the school it's a different dynamic. So I've done reading, grading papers, coordinating school productions, or whatever. I've been a PTA officer and PTA president. 

As they got older we started going to nursing homes. One of my grandparents was in a nursing home and because my family is so large my grandfather was never alone when he was there. The doctors wouldn't let him be at home, so we went to him, around the clock. We saw a lot of people with nobody to visit them, so even after my grandfather passed away we went in to visit, read to people, or bring toiletries and socks. Whatever they needed.

With the kids, they were active in or church youth group and they liked to sing, so we started going to the nursing home with the youth group to sing. They'd bring in gift baskets that they purchased with their allowance, and we'd visit three or four or five people. That's kind of how they got started and I hope it's something they keep doing as they get older.

What other activities have you done with them?

One of our other activities is feeding the homeless with our family. It's not just my kids — it's my extended family with my parents and siblings and their kids and everyone. One Thanksgiving we were standing around. It was cold and rainy and I remember saying how thankful I was for wonderful parents who raised a close-knit family, and for a warm home with food on the table. I got to thinking about the homeless people we see in Atlanta, so I said "Everyone, how about instead of us getting together to sit around the table on Christmas to eat and drink, how about we go out Christmas morning and we go feed the homeless?"

They all looked at me and went "Huh?"

So I told them we'd pick some safe areas, and that when everyone went Christmas shopping they needed to buy 10 hats, or 10 scarves, or 10 pairs of socks — something to help keep people warm. I said we'd take around a hot breakfast and some thing that could be saved for later.

Then I reached out to a friend of mine that had done this before and she told me some things we'd need and helped me organize it. The kids hadn't really seen homeless people before, so they were nervous, but once they saw us older folks talking to them and sharing with them, that helped. My brother-in-law is a deacon so he and my father prayed with the people. After that first time my boys asked when we were doing it again. We did it the next year, and now we do it quarterly. Everyone contributes whether they can go or not. I hope I'm instilling in them that they have to give back. It doesn't have to be that, but it should be something.

Are there any other causes that are important to you?

On a personal level, I mentor in a big sister program in my church, and I see such a need for that. Teenagers need that help, especially some who don't have a mother or father around home. I grew up with a mother and father around the house and I know how important that is. Some of these kids don't have either. They're raised by grandparents or foster parents, and those are the kids I'm drawn to. It's been a learning experience, and I get joy from that. I like working through my church because it's not a big organization. You really feel like you're making a difference and not getting lost in a crowd.

Another cause that's important to us has to do with my youngest son. When he was seven days old he went into cardiac arrest at the house. His heart stopped beating. We rushed him to the hospital and they flew him to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Three days later they got him stabilized and did open heart surgery. So we started doing volunteer activities with Children's Healthcare, and that's had impact on my boys, especially Daniel.

Daniel's 6'5" and has done sports his whole life, but he knew he didn't want to go to school for sports. He knew he wasn't going to go pro, so he said he was done with that. He decided he wanted to be a pediatric physical therapist. He wanted to work with kids. 

When we do hospital visits kids are always in awe of his size, but then they get to know him and they love him. They love playing with "Mr. Daniel" and he just blossoms around them. He talked to his school counselor and they chose this path together. So I think those visits helped him find his career choice. Maybe he'll still change his mind, but those visits opened up possibilities for him. He's always taken to sports training as an athlete, and his volunteer activities gave him a way to put it to use.

It's been wonderful to see the impact these experiences have had on my kids, and I'm glad they're learning to give back and help others.