“This is probably the best Federal program they’ve ever come up with,” says Grandma Delores about the Foster Grandmas program in Fort Dodge, IA. “It benefits so many people. It’s not just good for the Foster Grandmas, it’s really good for the children, too.” And Grandma Delores would know: she’d been a Foster Grandma since 1996 and is heading into her sixteenth year. She intends to keep going as long as she can.

Grandma Delores works with young children on a regular basis, starting her mornings in the kindergarten class where she wipes tears and ties shoes. “It’s not always fun for the kids,” she says. “But it’s fun for the Foster Grandmas.” In between the tear-wiping and shoe-tying, Grandma Delores spends most of her time reading with children, helping them with math, and working with children in areas they’re struggling. As an ex-country school teacher, Grandma Delores has a lot of experience teaching multiple subjects to a variety of age groups. But not everything is the same as when she was a teacher in Iowan country: “The way they teach math now is foreign.” Grandma Delores tells me how she and the other Foster Grandmas look at the current math lessons and wonder how children understand it—but they do. “It’s kinda fun to see new ways of doing old things,” she says.

Grandma Delores recalls one of her favorite things, “seeing the light go on” for the children she teaches. “There was a little Chinese boy who couldn’t speak English, which is hard when you’re in Kindergarten. I worked with him and made flashcards, cut out pictures to put on there with the English words. He didn’t stay very long, but I hope I was able to help him.”

Another time, “One little girl had a hard time learning to tell time. We worked on it and worked on it and one day, she said, ‘I get it, this is easy!’” Grandma Delores laughs as she tells the story. Those bright spots, she says, make her feel good for sticking in there.

“For me, it’s that feeling that I have something important to do every day. I miss it in the summertime. I have a big garden, but it’s not quite the same,” she laughs. “I’m 88, or I will be in October. [Being a Foster Grandma] gives you a reason to go on. And it’s exciting! To see their faces in the morning—and if they’re not smiling, then to try and get them to.” She adds that the most important thing Foster Grandmas like her can do is, “above all, love children and be patient.”

For Grandma Delores, the Foster Grandma program led by Jeanine Nemitz and Mary Solverson “deserves a lot of credit! Jeanine and Mary are such wonderful advocates for Foster Grandmas.” She tells me how the two women have worked to secure office space, insurance, and more recognition for the program. “They deserve a pat on the back,” she adds, thankful for the work that makes her service possible and fulfilling.

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