Twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, Saugerties resident Evelyn Raushendorfer, wearing her “patience and caring hat,” walks through the village and arrives at Cahill Elementary School, her pockets filled with mints. Her destination is teacher Lindsay Crowley’s first-grade classroom, where she works with the children in her official capacity as a foster grandparent.
The Foster Grandparent Program of the Hudson Valley is an initiative through the Westchester Community Opportunity Program, which connects seniors with children in their community in an academic setting for between 15-35 hours per week. Though Raushendorfer receives a small stipend, the program is largely volunteer-based, with seniors mentoring children in elementary schools, daycare centers and head start centers.
Raushendorfer is an 83-year old retiree who, at Cahill, helps with everything from sharpening pencils, setting up worksheets to keeping students focused on the task at hand, and sometimes even helping to tie shoelaces. A volunteer for 15 years, Raushendorfer has helped hundreds of kids with reading, writing, poetry, mathematics and learning sight words. A recent class lesson on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. gave Raushendorfer a chance to speak about her own childhood in a time of segregation.
“I love all the personalities and how inquisitive the students are,” said Raushendorfer, adding that working with children helps keep her young at heart. “Doing something at my age is very important. It keeps your mind sharp and your body healthy. And besides, it feels good.”
Crowley said she appreciates the help in the classroom, especially when children are working diligently on a variety of subjects. “Ms. Evelyn will often walk around the room and help students with different tasks,” she said. “The students love having her around. For some students she really is like a grandparent.”
Crowley’s students call Raushendorfer “Mrs. R,” and they’re always happy to have her in class, whether she’s handing out hugs, mints, or both.
“Mrs. R is nice. She reads us poetry.” — Flynn, age 6
“Mrs. R is an awesome helper. She helps us during stations.” — Nehemiah, age 6
“Mrs. R is really nice and she helps me with my work.” — Aliveah, age 6
“Well, she watches out for the kids and she helps them with math.” — Landon, age 6
While it’s clear the students benefit from and appreciate the extra attention, Raushendorfer said the Foster Grandparent Program is also good for the volunteer foster grandparents.
“I think a lot of seniors would benefit from this type of work,” said Raushendorfer. “Everyone could use a friend.”