AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer Barb Stevenson
Foster Grandparenting: For Barb Stevenson, It’s Belonging to a Team
Barb Stevenson was shopping at a large retailer not long ago, when out of nowhere she heard “Grandma Barb! Grandma Barb!” Turning to look, she was overwhelmed to see a little blonde-haired girl rushing toward her.
“Everybody in the store was looking,” she recounts. And that included the little girl’s mother who, after reaching Barb herself, gave her a knowing look, smiled and simply confirmed, “From school, right?”
Right. From school. Marquette Elementary School in Muskegon, to be specific. It’s where Barb conjures up a special magic that extends from her role as Foster Grandparent, a position she’s been enjoying nearly seven years now.
She’s part of a troupe of 80 volunteers who serve in classrooms throughout Muskegon, Lake and Newaygo counties, a program instituted 50 years ago by AmeriCorps Seniors and sponsored here by Catholic Charities West Michigan.
Barb, now 72, was reared in Arkansas but eventually moved to Muskegon. Recently widowed and retired, she lives with extended family and became involved with the Foster Grandparent program when a friend from church suggested she’d be a good fit, given her propensity to put people at ease, a quality she honed while working as a secretary for an area municipality.
What she especially loves about grandparenting in the school is being part of the same team as the teachers and administrators and support staff. “I might miss a day, and the next, it’s ‘Where were you? We missed you!’” she says. “If you stick with the program long enough, you become part of that family. It just feels so good to be needed and wanted.”
The position does offer its challenges: “You hear some heartbreaking stories from some of the kids,” she says. “Like when one or both parents are absent from the family home, and the child is being taken back and forth from one side to the other side. Or they’re placed in foster care and can’t understand why. Sometimes, all you can do is listen, but for the kids, that’s everything.”
Barb often helps students with reading and math, which she embraces with gusto: “Teachers can be short-staffed, and that was especially true during the pandemic. So, I’ll read to the kids and help them with their math and spelling. I actually had one little boy in second grade who’d never known how to spell his entire name, just his nickname. We fixed that, and he was so excited to show his mom.”
There’s something else that motivates Barb: “I was raised by my own grandparents, and I was always taught that you do unto others. To look after one another.”