Everybody 'love, love, loves' Perham's Grandma Odie
It's a good thing Odelia Wegscheid likes hugs.
Now that she's a Foster Grandparent to young students in Perham, she gets an awful lot of them.
'Grandma Odie,' as she's affectionately known, can hardly get into a classroom without being stopped for a quick squeeze by one happy kid after the next, all of them excited to see her.
"Everyone just love, love, loves her," says Darla Guehna, a kindergarten teacher at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.
Grandma Odie has been volunteering at Heart of the Lakes since the start of the school year, visiting all the different kindergarten classrooms every morning of the week. In the afternoons, she goes over to St. Henry's Area School, where she helps walk some of the students over to the Boys and Girls Club after school, and then volunteers her time as a Foster Grandparent there, as well.
It keeps her busy, she says, which is exactly the idea: "It gives me something to do; gets me out of the house... My grandkids are all in the Cities, so I don't get to see them very much. So this is kind of my 'grandma fix,' doing this. It's fun."
It sure does look fun. In Guehna's class last Wednesday, Grandma Odie got to play 'The Pet Vet' with a few of the students. This hands-on activity simulated a visit to a veterinarian's office, with each student taking turns pretending to be the veterinarian while the others were pet owners, bringing their animals in for appointments. One boy said his dog (a big red stuffed 'Clifford' dog) was due for his shots; another suspected his dog (a toy from '101 Dalmations') might be sick and requested some medicine. The 'vet' got to administer both, using realistic toy equipment.
Grandma Odie looked on and smiled, helping the kids fill out their appointment paperwork — name of the pet, age, gender, reason for visit, etc. — and encouraging them to use their manners when interacting, saying "please" and "thank you" when appropriate. She also answered any of their questions and chatted with them about their own real-life pets at home.
It's not unusual to find Grandma Odie helping out with small group activities like these, though her duties as a Foster Grandparent vary from day to day. Depending on the needs of the teacher she's working with, she might just as easily be found working one-on-one with students on their letters or numbers.
According to the Foster Grandparent website, at nationalservice.gov, Foster Grandparents serve as role models, mentors and friends to children in their communities, giving them the extra care, support and attention they need to grow and succeed in school.
"It really helps to have another adult around in the classroom," says Guehna. "It's amazing how much it just calms the kids and how nicely they do their activities when she's around... Sometimes, I even use Grandma Odie as an incentive (i.e. 'Behave during story time and you can go work with Grandma Odie later')."
It works, because the kids all like her so much.
Currently, Grandma Odie is the only Foster Grandparent at Heart of the Lakes, and she is one of just two total in Perham — the other volunteers at St. Henry's, and they both spend their afternoons at the Boys and Girls Club.
"I like working with the kids, needless to say," Grandma Odie says. "I think I'm making a difference, or at least I hope so... If it's not making a difference in their lives, it's making a difference in mine. I find a lot of fulfillment in it."
She recommends that anyone who has the time try their hand at being a Foster Grandparent, even if it's just for a couple of days a week.
"I really like doing it," she says. "It's something different in your life; something to give it more meaning. I think it helps shape the kids, too, because it gives them someone else to get their information from, other than just Mom and Dad and the teachers."
"And I'm making lots of friends," she adds. "When I come in (to the school) in the mornings, the kids all run up to me and say 'Hi Grandma Odie!.' Even some of them that I don't work with."
She got involved in the Foster Grandparent program at the recommendation of Boys and Girls Club Director Cori Brown, whom she knew through her church involvements at Calvary Lutheran. Grandma Odie volunteers for the church nursery, as well as a recovery program hosted by the church.
Born and raised on a farm just north of Perham, the now-retired mother of three had a long career as a nurse. She lived in the Twin Cities area for about 35 years before moving back to Perham to help her siblings care for their aging parents. She's one of 14 children, most of whom still live in the area, so she's got plenty of family around.
She plans to take a short break from volunteering in December due to a scheduled surgery, she says, but wants to get back at it as soon as possible after that. All those hugs just might help speed up her recovery.
On Wednesday, the kids who played 'The Pet Vet' with Grandma Odie thanked her for her time and helpfulness, and said they really liked working with her. Before leaving to rejoin the rest of the class, one boy even made sure to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving and, of course, give her a big hug.
Want to be a Foster Grandparent?
Foster Grandparents are needed in Perham and throughout Otter Tail County. Foster Grandparents receive a tax free stipend and other benefits. They must be 55 or older. Contact Jon Knopik, Foster Grandparent Area Supervisor, at 320-229-4593 or Jknopik@ccstcloud.org.