Bessie Johnson, a 92-year-old woman who lives in Buffalo, NY, has found her calling. She’s been a surrogate grandmother to kids for the past 25 years.
As part of a pre-school “Foster a Grandparent Program,” Bessie has been an important part of youngsters’ lives over the years, mentoring preschoolers. The children call her Grandma Bessie even though she isn’t their grandmother by blood.
The program allows those ages 55 and older to become mentors and role models (and friends, too!) to these young children at an important time in their lives.
Bessie told WIVB: “They all come from different homes and you gotta realize they need a little more teaching and guidance because many times they don’t get that in the home.” She added, “By coming here, you get a chance to help them.”
Her role involves three visits a week to help the children with reading and counting, as Bessie explained, “I work with all the children really. Whenever they need help, they’ll come up to me.”
She’s found the experience to be a great give and take, noting: “I enjoy doing it because I feel like I am doing something worthwhile for my day.”
She further explained: “I could stay home and look at the dust and the dirt but that’s not so interesting. I think it just helps us stay mentally and physically mobile and going.”
The program has more than 100 senior volunteers in the school district’s area and grandparents will typically be assigned to work with one or two kids to build a strong one-on-one relationship with them.
Erin Pustulka, who coordinates the program, explained: “If someone is struggling, having a grandparent in the room connected to your child is probably the best thing.”
For Bessie, the joy of the volunteer program keeps her going, as she noted: “I enjoy being here helping them and I make it a better day for some child, who knows.”
One child reflected on how have a foster grandma in the classroom has been special to her, explaining: “I’ve only got one mom and I’ve only got one dad” and Bessie fills in “for anything in between.” The video captures some of Bessie’s interactions with the children and obviously she’s a well-loved addition to their classroom.
The program was first created in Florida to connect older adults with children in need. The website for the Buffalo program includes the following information: “Foster grandparents stay active by giving back to our community’s vulnerable children. They develop one-on-one relationships with children ages 3-18 by tutoring, mentoring, and offering caring support to special and exceptional needs children.”
Additionally, the site notes: “Grandparents volunteer between 15 and 40 hours each week and draw from personal wisdom and experience to help children meet social, academic, and developmental goals under the supervision of teachers and center directors.”
Commenters on the YouTube video were thrilled with these story, with posts such as: “Now this is my type of news!” and “SO SWEET.” Another noted that Bessie doesn’t look 92 at all, writing: “92?!?! Amazing she looks 65.”