Catherine Robinson is a grandmother to more children than she can count.
At 74 years old, the former UF Health Shands Hospital employee has spent the past six years volunteering as a foster grandparent for elementary-school students through the Alachua County Foster Grandparent Program.
On Friday, foster grandparents like Robinson will be honored for the hours of service they have dedicated through the 43-year-old program during a luncheon at the Best Western Gateway Grand, said Samantha Fleming, the program coordinator.
“We have some that just joined last month, and we have our longest-standing volunteer who has been in the program for 26 years,” Fleming said. “It’s just kind of a fun day.”
As part of the program, low-income seniors ages 55 and older are paired with children from local schools to provide help with schoolwork and teach good classroom behavior.
Robinson started in third-grade classes but now works mostly with the kindergartners. She said the children, even as they grow older, continue to remind her of her own grandchildren.
“I did the best I could to try to help them learn to read and write, and now some are grown,” she said. “And even though I never know how good of a job I did, they always see me and say, ‘Thank you, Grandma; thank you for teaching me how to read.’”
Fleming said the benefits of the program are immeasurable.
“It gets the seniors out and active, supplements their income a little bit and then helps the children at the same time,” she said. “We had a volunteer who had lost her mother, so she joined our program, and it really helped her to kind of process that grief and to be able to continue going on.”
She said the children benefit, too.
“Then there are those children who have been told that there’s something they can never get, or that they’ll never amount to anything, and then the grandparents come and just kind of build them up and build up that confidence,” Fleming said.