A daily dose of stability. That’s what you give area kids when you give to United Way of Central Illinois.
And that stability’s name is Grandma.
Coming from unstable home lives, including living in poverty, being unsure of where your next meal will come from, or unsafe living areas can impact kids’ school lives. The stress they feel at home follows them to the classroom.
“These children have to live out of some bad homes and come to school. A lot of them come to school mad because of what they had to go through just to get out of the door,” says Beverly Bazemore, a senior from Springfield who is part of the Foster Grandparent Program.
“But when we’re there with them, they know they got somebody they can lean on. And sometimes five or just fifteen minutes out of all that chaos, a child can keep their sanity.”
The program is run by One Hope United, a partner of United Way of Central Illinois (UWCIL). Thanks in part to generous UWCIL supporters in the community the program is flourishing.
Currently, there are 45 seniors in the region who are part of the program working with 146 children in 23 schools and other community based sites across the region. The “Grandparents,” all 55 and older, help students who need extra support with subjects like reading, spelling and math.
The approach is working. Assessments of the program show that over 90 percent of children working with a foster grandparent are showing an increase in their reading and math skills.
“This is an amazing program to support if you are trying to really impact kids’ lives. Some of our kids come from such difficult homes, to have a classroom teacher plus Grandma to be consistent people in their lives, it’s really impactful to the kids,” says Nathan Grieme, a fourth-grade teacher at Enos Elementary School.
Grandma Has a Special Meaning
Nathan has been working with the same classroom grandma, LaVerta Dunlap, for six years. “It’s Mr. Grieme and Grandma, we’re a team,” he says.
Like many of the Grandparents, LaVerta got involved in the program because she wanted something that would get her out of the house. But the position has turned into much more. Over the years, being a classroom grandma has become part of her identity.
“I enjoy coming here every day. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t come here,” she says.
She liked it so much she recruited her twin sister, Laberta Smith, to become a classroom grandma as well.
Laberta, who works with fifth graders at Enos, says she can see the difference she’s making when she works with her students.
“I can tell the difference in some of the kids. Some of the kids used to come to the classroom and just act out. But once you sit down and work with them, they change,” she explains.
Beverly Bazemore thinks the difference is partly because of how the kids can relate differently to the classroom Grandparents compared to their teacher.
“The fact that they can call us grandma, that has a special meaning. Some of them don’t have grandmas. When they see us out at the mall or at a store, you’d be surprised how many children run up to me and say ‘hey, grandma!’” she says.
Benefits for the Grandparents
The kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from being in the classrooms. Many of the Grandparents report they get as much out of the program as they give back.
“You feel needed,” says Beverly. “Once you get to our age, a lot of young people they like to push us aside. Like our use is gone. But coming here, we’re needed...It gives us a purpose.”
She adds that going to the classroom is “a medicine.” She and her fellow Grandparents have noticed an improvement in their health and mobility since starting the program.
Keeping Grandparents in the Classroom
United Way of Central Illinois (UWCIL) is proud to partner with One Hope United to offer this program in the community, and we rely on the generosity of people in our region to sustain it. Making a gift today to UWCIL can help us make sure more kids get the support they need.