While First Lady of California, Mrs. Reagan had championed the Foster Grandparents program, which brings together senior citizens and disadvantaged children, and the program benefited greatly from her support. As First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Reagan helped expand the program on a national level and promoted private funding in local communities.
Mrs. Reagan resumed her work with Foster Grandparents almost as soon as she came to the White House. She attended a few events in her earliest months as first lady, while also handling the refurbishing of the White House and attending other official events. The first major event she attended for Foster Grandparents was the National Conference in Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1981. Soon afterwards, she was featured on the Mike Douglas Show, which helped bring national awareness to the program.
With Jane Wilkie, Mrs. Reagan coauthored a book, To Love a Child, and a song by the same title was written and dedicated to her. The song was recorded by Frank Sinatra, and all proceeds from the book and the record benefited the Foster Grandparents program. In October of 1982, Mrs. Reagan hosted a picnic lunch for 600 local foster grandparents and children at the White House, and Frank Sinatra performed the song.
Mrs. Reagan continued to work on behalf of the program for her eight years in the White House. In June of 1988 she visited Walt Disney World with 500 foster grandparents, and enlisted Mickey Mouse as an Honorary Foster Grandparent. As a measure of the power of a first lady’s attention, in the program’s first year of operation 782 foster grandparents had carried out thirty-three projects in twenty-seven states. By 1985, approximately 19,000 foster grandparents served some 65,000 children through 245 projects in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.