AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer Darlene Wolf
Darlene Wolf laughs to recall the moment she knew she was likely destined to become a Foster Grandparent.
“I opened my big mouth to a friend of mine and shared what I used to do in California – taking care of elderly folks, as well as seven kids whose parents needed some support while they were away from work.
“Well, before I knew it, a lady called me and said, ‘We’d like to talk to you,’ and I thought, ‘Oops, what did I do wrong?’”
Darlene, of course, wasn’t in any kind of trouble.
On the contrary, Catholic Charities West Michigan was eager to learn if she might be a good fit for their Foster Grandparent program. And indeed, she was.
That interview took place more than 10 years ago, and in that time, “Grandma Darlene” has shared special times and nurtured the development of hundreds of youngsters enrolled in the White Cloud public school system.
She’s part of an army of some 80 who venture into schools throughout Muskegon, Lake and Newaygo counties. As Foster Grandparents, they spend the school day interacting with kids, some of whom have special needs, and others who just enjoy having another adult mentor with whom to share time and stories.
“I’d helped kids before, but never in a large classroom setting,” says Darlene. “I was placed into a preschool room to start, and I was scared to death.” She moved into a first grade room next, then into third- and fourth-grade classes. She quickly found her speed, and discovered a bonus: That spending time with the children helped bridge the loneliness that surfaced after losing her husband Tom.
Darlene says she’s learned a lot since coming on board: “One thing is realizing that some of the parents today raise their kids a bit differently from how we raised our own,’ noting with a twinkle in her eye that “Some of them can be a little mouthy.”
In the next breath, however, she’s emphasizing how most are just hungry for a little extra companionship, and that she doesn’t judge, just loves ‘em all.
Though Darlene isn’t trained as a teacher’s aide, she pitches in on the academics: “I’ll do whatever I can to help them with their schoolwork. Some of them enjoy reading to me, and if they have trouble, I’m glad to help.”
Darlene also makes sure to spend time with the kids when they’re having lunch and recess. “I guess I just enjoy being around kids, no matter the reason,” she says.
Like others who serve as Foster Grandparents, Darlene says she’s amazed and flattered when, after missing a day, she returns to teachers and other staff members at the school who “enjoy having me there, and if I’m not, they wonder where I’m at.”
For anyone mulling over the possibility of becoming a Foster Grandparent, Darlene enthusiastically recommends it. “The times you get to spend with these children is precious,” she says, “and they really appreciate it.
“If you have a heart for kids and the time to share, it’s so worth it. Especially if you’re like me, and have it in your blood to be a caregiver.”