AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer Jackie Drew
Honoring a Life-long Commitment To Serving Others in Need
For Jackie Drew, she never intended her involvement in the Foster Grandparent program to serve as a stepping stone.
But that’s exactly what happened. Some four years after serving the program sponsored in three counties by Catholic Charities West Michigan, Jackie was hired by the school district in which she’d been placed – Big Jackson Public Schools in Newaygo County.
From the very start, Jackie felt at home, thanks to having been raised in and around Paris, Michigan where that K-6 school system – which typically includes fewer than 20 students – is located.
“I grew up with the principal and her husband,” she says. “And I already knew most the parents and the grandparents of the kids who attend there, because a lot of them just decided to remain in the area.” Jackie still lives “in the same home in which I was born and raised.”
Jackie’s time in classrooms included mentoring children who have special needs, including those on the autistic spectrum.
In addition to being a good listener and shoulder to lean on, Jackie’s skill sets include fluency in two languages – French and Anishinaabe, as a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
Jackie joined the Foster Grandparent program after hearing about it from a friend, and how it not only provided folks the opportunity to become a valuable asset in the classroom, but “gives us the extra benefit to stretch our Social Security checks.” Foster Grandparents who meet income guidelines receive a modest hourly stipend.
Jackie typically spends eight hours a day in the classroom, so upwards of 40 hours weekly. It’s worth it, she says, “for the smiles, the hugs, for the laughter and the tears sometimes, and in knowing that you’re making a difference.
“In my case, I’ve come to learn to depend on that every day, and when you have to be gone, it’s like ‘Doggone it, I missed a day.’ But you talk with the teachers, and you hear ‘Grandma, this is what happened’ so they keep you in that loop, and you don’t miss out on anything.”
Jackie loves being part of that team mentality. It helps give her purpose each day, and affords her the opportunity to work with children, many of whom are already known to her through the parents and others.
“It’s a very small school system, obviously,” she says. “And yet it’s so rewarding, all the way around. Being a friend to others in those classrooms is a gift, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.”