Grannies make a difference, one child at a time

SPECIAL GRANNIES—Millie Anderson (left) and Gisela Leichty (right) share stories of their grandchildren.

SPECIAL GRANNIES—Millie Anderson (left) and Gisela Leichty (right) share stories of their grandchildren.

Most people over the age of 75 are winding down and enjoying the twilight years of their life, right? Not for a couple of grannies who are in the prime of their life and enjoying every minute of it.

Gisela Leichty, 81, and Millie Anderson, 76, are a couple of grannies who are making a huge difference in the Rockford community by working with children as volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program. These super turbo-charged seniors help first-grade children at Ridgeview Elementary School by acting as their mentors. They change children’s lives by giving them the attention they need. The volunteers spend one-on-one time with five to ten students throughout the school year, helping students with writing, reading and math and maybe, more importantly, they just give them unconditional love whenever they need it.

When asked why she spends five hours a day, four days a week with screaming kids, without missing a heartbeat Gisela said, “They give me purpose to get up each day.”

Both ladies agree that mentoring is a two-way street because not only are they making a difference in the children’s lives but the children are making a difference in their lives. “Watching these young children blossom before their eyes is more rewarding than you can imagine,” is a common statement from volunteers.

When Millie is not volunteering, she is an avid mystery reader and loves to walk. She raised six children and before volunteering she worked with older adults in nursing homes for many years. She says nothing compares to working with children and giving them plain old-fashioned TLC. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Gisela, who raised eight children of her own, loves to garden when she is not loving on “her” grandkids. These volunteers develop a long-lasting relationship with their grandkid by loving, caring and giving nonjudgmental help from their many years of life’s experiences. They are passing on their wisdom to the future generations instead of keeping it to themselves.

The Foster Grandparent Program is a national program that has been around for over 40 years. The program realizes that the family structure has changed over the last 50 years and there have been fewer opportunities for children and young people to interact with and learn from “elders.” Schools alone cannot address the personal, physical and emotional needs of children. This program partners with schools, neighborhoods and community organizations to enhance youth and family development. It offers volunteer opportunities for low-income older adults (aged 60 and older) with a small nontaxable stipend and other benefits.

If you would like to find out more about this program or possibly volunteer, contact PJ Everlove at (616) 771-9752 or peverlove@gerontologynetwork.org. The love and personalized attention provided by these volunteers has helped change the world one child at a time.

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