By GINA KINSLOW
Glasgow Daily Times
Willadeen Higgason runs rings around people half her age, or at least that’s what Ali Trigg says.
“She’s an amazing lady,” said Trigg, who works as the secretary at North Jackson Elementary, which is where Higgason volunteers 25 hours a week as a foster grandparent.
The school’s staff recently helped Higgason celebrate her 89th birthday with a potluck lunch. They also presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a corsage in the school’s conference room.
“I was surprised,” she said.
Higgason said she doesn’t feel as old as she actually is and attributes it to being able to stay active.
As a foster grandparent, she works with first-graders, doing whatever the teachers need her to do.
Higgason has been a foster grandparent for 12 years. The students call her “Granny Deen.”
Higgason made the decision to become a foster grandparent when looking for a way she could give back to her community. She read a newspaper article about Community Action of Southern Kentucky’s foster grandparent program, and decided becoming a foster grandparent would be a way she could help.
“My husband died in 2001 and then 9/11 happened and everybody was volunteering,” she said. “I opened the front page of the paper and right there was an article that said, ‘foster grandparents needed.’”
Higgason called the phone number listed in the article and signed up to volunteer for the program.
She is one of two foster grandparents who volunteer at North Jackson.
“This gives me something to do and something to look forward to,” Higgason said.
She enjoys helping the teachers, almost as much as she does assisting the students, and they think as much of her as she does of them.
“She is a wonderful, wonderful lady,” said Beth Maples, who teaches first grade.
Betty Pato, the other foster grandparent at North Jackson, said, “She’s amazing when you think about her age.”
Pato, who is 76, hasn’t been volunteering as a foster grandparent for as long as Higgason. She’s been doing it for only a year and volunteers 20 hours a week.
Pato works with preschool children, and helps out with the school’s art classes.
“I just love it. It gives you a purpose,” she said, adding she views her work at the school as a type of ministry because she gets to give and share with the children.
Her presence at the school also gives the students some comfort if they are a little apprehensive about going to school.
“They feel good about having a grandma here,” she said.
Her students call her “Granny Betty.”
Both Pato and Higgason have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own, and Higgason is also a great-great-grandma.
They both worked before retiring and becoming volunteers.
Higgason was an LPN at a nursing home, while Pato was a substitute teacher.
“Mrs. Willadeen Higgason and Mrs. Betty Pato are truly wonderful additions to North Jackson Elementary. Their love and dedication to our students is immeasurable,” said principal Anthony Frazier. “It has been a blessing for our school to have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with these wonderful ladies and to watch as the generation gap is bridged by their love and genuine concern for our children.”
The foster grandparent program is made possible through Community Action of Southern Kentucky. Volunteers with the foster grandparent program work with children who have special needs, including those who are at risk or need extra help in the classroom, said Charity Parrish, a spokesperson for Community Action of Southern Kentucky.
There are currently 13 foster grandparents volunteering in Barren County and a total of 90 in the Barren River region, but there is always a need for more, she said.
To be a foster grandparent, a person must be at least 55 years old, Parrish said.
For more information about the program, call Community Action of Southern Kentucky’s main office in Bowling Green at 270-782-3162 and ask for the foster grandparent program staff.
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