Preschoolers gain skills and elders find a ‘sense of purpose’

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A young boy watches as volunteer Joann Priestley looks over his drawings from a bookmaking activity. (Photo: Bear Guerra)

She’s not the teacher, but when 70-year-old Joann Priestly shows up at this preschool, she is well-prepared for each lesson. Priestly is a volunteer “foster grandma” with a national program called Jumpstart, a nonprofit that trains adults to help close the kindergarten readiness gap among children in underserved communities. Every week, Priestly spends about four hours with in the company of children–it’s brought new meaning to her life.

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Betty Holmes, Helen Tillery, and Joann Priestly lead a group of children from Silva Center preschool in a song on a recent morning in January. The women are volunteers with the Jumpstart Foster Grandparents program. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
Children listen on as the volunteers read a story. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
In Los Angeles, the Jumpstart Foster Grandparents program brings older adults together with children from vulnerable communities to offer mentorship, language skills, and literacy training to help ensure the preschoolers are prepared for kindergarten. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
The positive effects are felt by both the students and the senior volunteers. Raymond Buford, director of the Foster Grandparents program says, “A lot of the volunteers were not active in their communities, maybe socially isolated from friends and family… so when they come here, they have a new sense of purpose.” (Photo: Bear Guerra)
Joann Priestly, 70, says that she had imagined her retirement as being a time when she would be “traveling a lot, going on vacation, visiting relatives out of state, and being with my friends.” The reality has been more difficult than she had envisioned, but she credits Jumpstart and other volunteer opportunities with giving her a more optimistic outlook on things. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
In addition to her work with Jumpstart, Joann Priestly leads a “Life Group” at her church. It was during one of her group meetings that she had an epiphany of sorts, “ We were doing different scenarios… There was an older woman who came into the meeting and she was always unhappy, she was never pleased, nothing was right. And I thought about it, and I said, ’I live with this woman. I think I am this woman.’” (Photo: Bear Guerra)
She promised herself that she would act to change her life, and shortly after, heard about Jumpstart from a friend. “I wonder if I didn’t run into Jumpstart, what would I have found? Because I had to find something…” (Photo: Bear Guerra)
Jennifer Britt shares a story with a group of students. She says that the Jumpstart curriculum “helps them understand that you can do different things in school. There’s playtime, there’s reading time. And you’re teaching them something – to share, teaching them to get along…” (Photo: Bear Guerra)
Helen Tillery shows one of the students how to hold her pencil during a writing exercise.(Photo: Bear Guerra)
At Silva, all of the children are from Latino families, and several of them have been in Spanish-only households. Helen Tillery says: “It has been an eye-opener for me as an African American who never had the opportunity to be around this many kids of a different ethnicity. To know that they don’t see you any different is amazing.” (Photo: Bear Guerra)
A child shares his drawings from an exercise with volunteer, Joann Priestly. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
“These kids are here with me today. My grandkids are in other parts of the country. So basically, they’re my little substitutes. You grow attached to them,” says Jennifer Britt. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
Foster grandparent Jennifer Britt explains a book to a group of children on a recent January morning. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
A young student reacts to a story being read by one of the Jumpstart foster grandparents. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
A child responds to an activity demonstrating some of the properties of water. (Photo: Bear Guerra)
One of the students focuses intently on a drawing activity. (Photo: Bear Guerra)