My first year of retirement was horrendous. I never realized how much your identity is tied to what you do for a living. When I retired, my father had a stroke (he’s ok) and my mother broke her back at the same time. At that time, I was just freefalling.
I had seen an article about the Foster Grandparent program in Newsday and I thought, “This is perfect!” I am a retired school teacher having taught 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grades. I tried substitute teaching but that was too much like teaching. I started volunteering in the Foster Grandparent program this past November. As a volunteer, I get to work with the children, but I get to focus on their emotional needs. As a teacher that was always the most frustrating for me—not having the time to devote to each child’s emotional well-being. I don’t have all the authority now but I can make a difference. I try to connect with each one, so they feel special in their own way, every day.
I have them call me nanny. It’s wonderful.
This has been my therapy. I have my identity back. I am volunteering in the same school that I went to in 4th and 5th grade. I’ve come full circle and I’m giving back to my community. It’s been so rewarding.
You don’t need to be an expert in anything, just do it. It’s so simple. Everyone has something to offer these children. Kids just need someone to cheer them on. I’m like Jiminy Cricket, helping them stay focused. I realize how much I am helping the teachers as well. Now they can teach because they have me to support the children in the classroom as well. This program is truly a win-win for everyone.
As long as I am physically able, I will still be volunteering. I feel like I’ve been given a gift!