Do you know how to tell a male butterfly from a female? No, it’s not a joke, it is something that Jo Pelletier learned in school today in kindergarten. Every year students watch caterpillars become butterflies. As a Foster Grandparent, Jo Pelletier gets to learn in the classroom right alongside the students.
Jo is in her late 60s and works in the Foster Grandparents Program through Penquis at Williams Cone School in Topsham. She is one of a small corps of retired folks who want to make a difference in kids’ lives, and (as she puts it) gets out of her own way. She loves being with kids, and they love her in the classroom with them. Sometimes she sees them in the store and they call out to her with great enthusiasm, “Grammie Jo!”
She says with a smile, “Watching them play is such a pleasure. They are so generous. I always get more than I bring to them. It lifts my heart.” Part of her work is to model cooperative behavior, and to encourage confidence in the shy kids. Sometimes she can see the difference immediately. “Kids really want to be good. It’s a wonderful give and take with them.”
Right now she works with kids on the alphabet and phonics, and helping them make art projects. She never knows what will come her way or who she’ll be working with when she shows up for work.
Yesterday, she was helping them with their art, helping them do what they wanted to do. They were cutting up paper for collages. One student in particular just kept cutting up more and more paper until he was finally settled with exactly what he wanted. “You never know what they are going to come up with, or the challenges they will meet along the way.” Jo says. “I try not to direct the students, but rather support them. I am constantly learning new things, about them, about their studies and about myself.”
The teachers are very supportive of the program and grateful for the help. Some students come from troubled homes, or homes without much parental support. Kids benefit tremendously by spending time with supportive adults and positive role models, and the effects ripple into their families and their communities. As the program brochure says, “Share today, Shape tomorrow.”
Jo became a Foster Grandparent 7 years ago after a conversation with a friend who was in the program in Lewiston. Her friend said, “You ought to try this, I bet you will love it!” and so she did. Jo called up Penquis, filled out an application and interviewed. The process is careful and detailed, including background checks and reference checks. Three months later she was working at Farwell School.
Jo started out being in classrooms 30 hours a week but has cut back to 16 hours because she did not want to be working full time in her retirement. She plans to be a Foster Grandparent as long as she is able, and encourages friends and family to look into the program. “It enriches my life so much. It speaks to me in ways I can’t explain.”
For more information and an application form, please call Penquis Foster Grandparent Program, 1-800-215-4942, ext. 3611 or write: FGP – Penquis, 262 Harlow Street, Bangor, ME 04401.