Maybe the only thing as powerful as a parent’s love is a grandparent’s love. And here at this school and thousands of other locations across the country, more than 20,000 seniors are volunteering every day as ‘foster’ grandparents.
As the day begins at Excel Public School in Southeast Washington…There are a few mature faces among the young girls rushing to class…wearing blue aprons, and serving up hugs, are six foster grandmothers, working alongside the school’s teachers to help students succeed.
Inside Dr. Smith’s first grade class is Grandma Margie Dixon.
“They are role models for our young ladies,” said Tenia Pritchard.
Principal Tania Pritchard says she’d love a grandparent in every classroom.
“Our grandmothers live in the communities so they see our young ladies at the grocery store on the buses. And so the girls, when they’re at home and in their communities and with their families they can see a part of school,” said Pritchard.
For Grandmas Margie Dixon, Wanda Brookings and Maureen Brooks, the word that best describes their experience is joy.
“Well it’s a joy to get up every morning knowing that a smile and a hug is waiting for me,” said Grandma Wanda. “Who wouldn’t want to get up and get that?”
“They need me and I need them each and every day,” she said.
The program is only open to seniors earning less than twice the federal poverty level, and nationwide, the Corporation for National and Community Service helps more than 150,000 young people work with 22,000 foster grandparents in nearly every state.
Cheryl Christmas runs the D.C. program, one of the largest in the country.
“We try to match individuals in areas and in schools in early childhood that people are struggling,” said Christmas. “The kids benefit from the social emotional connection and then for the grandparents, they too are learning.
Seniors get help with everything from wills to annual physicals. A recent study found that nearly half of the program’s volunteers report improved health after just one year.
Something Grandma Maureen has felt personally
“[The doctor] told me to keep up the good work. My pressure down, [my] blood pressure’s down. My weight is down. I mean. I just had my cataracts removed. they’re fine. I said I’ve got to see my babies,” said Grandma Maureen.
But for these grandmothers, the program’s most valuable benefit is in the classroom
“Love. It don’t cost anything,” said Grandma Wanda.
“I had one little girl to tell me she said ‘Do you know how much I love you.’ You know how you turned your eyes because you have tears. I said ‘you just don’t know how much I love you today baby’,” said Grandma Margie.
“Because you see so many children they don’t get the love they have no idea what love is about. And to me to share my love. That that could take them a long ways,” said Grandma Margie.