G is for Grandparent

Local senior Geneva Selin finds volunteering as a Foster Grandparent rewarding

Story, photos and audio slideshow by Elizabeth Sias

“‘Dandy’ starts with D,” Grandma Geneva told a table of kindergartners as she spelled out the word.

The students each colored a picture of a duck, then told teacher Julie Peterson or Grandma Geneva Selin words beginning with the letter D.

“Doctor!” one student exclaimed.

“Daffy Duck!” said one boy.

“Donald Duck!” said another.

“Very good!” Selin told them as she wrote the words.

Geneva Selin — or Grandma Geneva, as the kindergartners know her — has been volunteering at Isanti Primary School as a Foster Grandparent for nine years. With January being National Mentor Month, Selin took the opportunity to reflect on the positive impact she’s had on students over the years.

Walbo resident Selin had been working with a temp agency, but most jobs were in the city and she didn’t want to travel very far. When she saw a write-up in the newspaper for the Foster Grandparent program, she knew it was for her.

After an interview with Area Supervisor Pat Braun, Selin started volunteering as a Foster Grandparent in October 2003. She’s been known as Grandma Geneva to the students at Isanti Primary School ever since.

“I’ve always loved children,” said Selin, who has two children and two grandchildren of her own. “I love these primary kids because they’re just so accepting and sweet.”

Grandma Geneva works with special education and kindergarten classes, as well as writing labs and skills labs. With special education, Selin said she helps with the reading and math lessons, trying to make learning a fun, engaging experience.

With kindergarten, she helps teachers and students around the classroom, with everything from crafts and playtime to learning the alphabet or the colors of the rainbow, and much more.

“I think school is important, so I try to make it interesting and fun to learn,” she said. “Especially in special ed, they want to make learning fun so that it isn’t something they feel discouraged about. Our staff here really does have a good outlook on teaching.”

Selin said she enjoys watching the children grow from kindergarten to second grade and loves the opportunity to mentor them in the writing and skills labs.

“I love their excitement of school,” she said. “They always seem to be upbeat, enjoy school and enjoy their teacher and they like to please.”

The teachers appreciate the extra help, too. In Kindergarten Teacher Julie Peterson’s classroom, Selin can be found every morning helping wherever she’s needed.

“She’s got a great attitude, and an extra set of hands and exposure to different generations is wonderful,” Peterson said.

Selin has always served as a mentor at Isanti Primary School, but Foster Grandmas and Grandpas around the community are in classrooms for all ages, from kindergarten to high school.

In central Minnesota, more than 200 Foster Grandparents are a part of this effort, serving in schools, Head Starts and other local nonprofits. In 2011, seniors like Grandma Geneva invested over 164,000 hours into the children of local communities, providing meaningful, supportive relationships for all involved.

The experience for Selin has been rewarding not only for helping students, but for a sense of purpose as well.

“I get up in the morning and I have someplace to go, something to do,” she said. “And I feel like it’s a benefit because the teacher has only two hands to do things, and it’s helpful just to have somebody around who can work with the children, too.”

She also said she enjoys the annual banquet with other Foster Grandmas and Grandpas around the community as the nonprofit recognize seniors for their contributions as volunteers.

“I thoroughly enjoy it,” Selin said. “Being valuable as you get older is important.”

She has gotten to know other Foster Grandparents in the area and would definitely recommend the program to other seniors.

Selin said she attended a country school with all grades learning in one room. While she didn’t have a specific mentor growing up, she remembers the older students acting as mentors for the younger ones and appreciates the significant role mentors like herself play.

“Just coming to school and seeing the kids and the teachers and knowing that we’re in this together is very rewarding. It takes us all. We all work together,” she said. “I definitely recommend it to other grandparents because I feel like it’s well worth the time that’s spent. I’ve enjoyed these nine years, and I’m going to do it as long as I can.”

About Foster Grandparents

The Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program of Catholic Charities thanks all of the Foster Grandmas and Grandpas who volunteer in the community. Foster Grandparents serving in Isanti County include Freda Andreini, Vivian Buckingham, Joyce Dahlgren, Loaine Johnson, Leola Linder, Sally Murdy, Maria Odell Carol Sabin, Geneva Selin, and Elizabeth Turnquist.

Senior Corps, which is under the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service, consists of the Foster Grandparent Program, the Senior Companion Program, and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. The Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program is sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud. For information on becoming a Foster Grandparent, contact Pat Braun at [email protected] or 612-390-0617.