They deliver meals. They read books. They rock babies to sleep. They make boo-boos better. The dole out thousands of hugs. These are the unsung heroes of the Early Learning Center – our Foster Grandparents.
Every day this small army of assistants bring smiles and laughter to the children at ELC as well as the staff. Working through the Land of the Sky Agency, they log 15-40 hours a week each, for only a small stipend which amounts to about $2.65 per hour. But as Grandma Diane Clark says, “We’re not here for the money, that’s for sure. What keeps us here – we love the children.”
They come from a variety of backgrounds. Many have previous experience working with children, or working with people with special needs. According to Aimee Spooner, ELC coordinator, “They help with everything, and the kids really look forward to seeing them come in to the classroom. They run and give them hugs when they see them. I enjoy having them here.”
The teachers enjoy having them here as well. Classroom G teacher Michelle Buckner tells this story about Grandma Diane. “I was going to school full-time and working part-time at the Asheville Day Nursery in the four-year-old class and Ms. Diane was the lead teacher. When I graduated college, I took over as lead teacher, and Diane was my assistant. She taught me everything I know.” When Asheville Day Nursery closed in 2005, Michelle came to ELC, and eventually was reunited with Diane, who had retired and joined the Land of Sky program. Michelle says, “We couldn’t do without them. They are a 2nd pair of hands and eyes and ears. They help with the food and the dishes. If I’m needing to change a diaper or talk with a therapist, they are there to keep an eye on things. And if someone is crying, or they have a boo-boo, Grandma Diane is right there with hugs to make it all better.” The relationships they form with children are important, but they support the teachers as well. “She’s like a grandmother to me, too,” says Michelle.
And the benefits of volunteering are not only for the children and teachers. “Papaw” Kenneth Wise moved to Asheville from New York City, where he once worked with Wilt Chamberlain at his Big Wilt’s Small Paradise nightclub. He had a cousin here who had been through the Land of Sky program and recommended it to him. “It was somewhat of an accident that I ended up here. They gave me a list of choices and one of them was Irene Wortham. The name rang a bell with me. When I asked my wife about it, I realized it would be a direct shot from my house to here.” Little did he know that working at ELC would be much more than a convenient place to volunteer. “When I realized that I would be working with kids with special needs, I knew it was an opportunity for me to give back,” he says. You see, he had a son who was paralyzed from the neck down and lived at Givens Estates. This became his way to give back to those that care for children like his with special needs. And now he has been here almost 14 years.
If you are interested in joining the program, contact Stacy Friesland at Land of Sky at (828)251-6622 ext. 132 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.