“Mom was Foster Grandma Irma (Pflipson) at Holy Family for 20 years, until she was 90. She loved helping upper grades and in the library. When honor rolls were posted or (she read) sports stories, she’d check for the names of students she’d worked with,” McLellan said.
“I’m doing the same — I follow ‘my’ students and their activities even after they’ve graduated from sixth grade, like my own grandchildren. The students feel comfortable with me and talk about their lives, their pets, their troubles, as if I’m their grandma. I like to think I’ve made a difference in their lives with my positive attitude and love for them.”
McLellan and her husband, Bob, have seven grandchildren and one great-grandson. At a recent family gathering, the kids asked about the other children’s photos on the McLellans’ refrigerator.
“I told them, ‘All Holy Family students are my grandchildren,’” she said.
Known by the students as “Grandma Mac,” McLellan is one of four volunteers at the school that are part of the Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud. She works five hours a day, three days a week, helping in most grades.
The other Foster Grandparent volunteers — Myrna Bowman, Judy Reller and Marilyn Uhlenkamp — are assigned to the kindergartens.
McLellan listens to students read, goes over new vocabulary, preps for spelling tests, works on comprehension, practices division flash cards and plays math games.
“When I was in school, math scared me but now I like math the best. It’s different at each level and challenges me. I tell them there’s more than one way to get the right answer,” she said.
An incident from her first year in the program makes her smile.
“Kindergartners recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. One day they thought I should help them sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ instead. So we sang it together whenever I was working with them. They’re now sixth-graders and still think I should sing it with them.”
When school was shut down due to COVID-19, McClellan missed the students and staff, and she kept in touch with second-graders by sending them riddles.
Sara Heurung, program director for the Foster Grandparent Program, said “We’re extremely excited to serve in person this school year. Students need extra attention, and Foster Grandparents are able to provide one-to-one attention and mentorship in the classroom. It’s great to be back the way we do our best work — with students.
“Having a Foster Grandparent assist students is a ‘win-win,’” she said. “We have statistics that show students improve their overall learning — reading, math, classroom engagement and social/emotional support — because of the help they get from our Foster Grandparents. Our focus is helping students and teachers and, to do that, we need more volunteers.”
During the pandemic, Heurung noted that many Foster Grandparent volunteers ended their service due to retirement, personal health issues or to pursue other opportunities.
Pat Scherf is one of three area supervisors for the Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent Program, which covers the counties of Diocese of St. Cloud. She said 12 volunteers serve at five Catholic schools in her area. Several Catholic schools, childcare centers and other sites across the 16-county service area are requesting volunteers (see box).
Working at Holy Family School gives McLellan the opportunity to help others and share her faith as staff members gather before school for prayer and students pray daily for special intentions.
“As second-graders get ready for their first confession and receiving first Communion, it’s a pleasure to watch their excitement,” she said. “Occasionally I attend Mass with the students. Different grades take turns planning and reading and singing — it’s wonderful to see their involvement. Sometimes I’ll just stop singing to listen. It’s beautiful to hear their young voices praising God.”
If you want to be a Foster Grandparent
- People age 55 or older should have a sincere interest in children and want to assist in their development. No minimum education or experience is required. Background checks are conducted on all applicants. Volunteers commit to a minimum of eight hours per week. Hours are flexible depending on the needs of the school and the individual.
- Benefits can include a non-taxable hourly stipend, travel reimbursement, accident and liability insurance while on assignment, learning opportunities and recognition. Orientation, site supervision and ongoing training are provided.
- For more information or to volunteer, visit ccstcloud.org and click on the “Volunteer” tab. Or contact Sara Heurung at 320-229-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.