Nonagenarian reaches South Texas kindergarten kids
Woman, 93, beloved as 'class granny' to children in Corpus Christi kindergarten
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — While some nonagenarians play bingo at retirement centers, one Corpus Christi woman goes to kindergarten five days a week.
She's been the class granny for 15 years.
"Our granny is a ball of energy," said Melissa Garcia, teacher at Galvan Elementary School, about the 93-year-old foster grandparent in her classroom each day. "She's my right hand and my left hand."
Conster "Connie" Willow Davis is one of 71 senior volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program, which serves more than 275 children in schools, residence centers and nonprofit organizations.
"It helps me mentally and spiritually," Davis told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/WNv18t). "Seeing a little smile on a little face thrills me."
The federally funded program has seven locations in Texas, and volunteers have collectively given more than 327,500 hours since 2007, officials said. Most volunteers serve at least 20 hours a week and get reimbursed for transportation, receive some meals during service, an annual physical and accident insurance while on duty.
Davis works 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on school days, filing the students' work, organizing homework folders, and much more.
She is the relief teacher for students working at a slower pace than others.
"There is always a student or two who are little behind others, and Granny works with them until they catch up," Garcia said.
At 93 years old, Davis is the oldest volunteer currently in the Corpus Christi program, said Imelda Barrera-Arevalo, program director
"Conster is so dedicated to serving the children," Barrera-Arevalo said. "She's a great lady."
Davis first signed up to serve residents with disabilities at the former Corpus Christi State School, where the program was launched in 1972. The facility is now named Corpus Christi State Supported Living Center.
Davis initially applied for part-time work there as a seamstress, after working most of her adult life in the garment industry.
"I was looking for a no-job, job," Davis said. "I actually went to the wrong place and talked to a man in charge of the Foster Grandparent Program. He coaxed me into it.
"I took clients who could go outside, into the sunshine, or read to others inside," Davis said. "I still go there on holidays, because when you see the joy you bring to these people, it's a wonderful thing."
She says she feels more connected with kindergarten children after volunteering at Galvan, Davis said.
"Bye, Granny," students repeat as they wiggle fingers at Davis while filing out the door for gym class.
She fields a variety of questions.
"Why is the skin loose on your arm," one boy asked.
"It's 'cause I'm old," Davis assured him.
She believes her relationship is especially important to children who don't have grandparents near them.
"So many children don't have grandparents close to them," she said.
Her role varies by student, she said.
"Granny tests us," said Jacob Damasco, 5. "She helps me read."
Davis high-fives Aracely Fuentes, 5, and teaches Aaron Torres, 7, new words, he said.
She's not new to the classroom. Before World War II, during which she worked in a war plant as a riveter, Davis helped teach school in McKinney.
"Granny has invaluable experiences she shares with all the kids and we couldn't duplicate it," Garcia said.
Davis recently brought in a replica of a wooden wall phone for the children to see, touch and pretend to talk on for photo taking. Her seamstress skills paid off, when they needed construction paper Indian vests for a class Thanksgiving celebration.
"Granny simplifies things for me, by collecting folders, disbursing notes and checking homework," Garcia said. "I get tired before she does. She easily saves me 12 to 15 hours of work weekly after hours."
Twice monthly, Davis attends program meetings, where she receives training with other volunteers and program updates.
The next day she has to answer for her absence.
"Where were you, Granny?" the kids ask, she said. "I love that they miss me, but I think to myself, 'I didn't know I worked for you.'"
Her work spills into adjacent classrooms, as other teachers need help too, a school administrator said.
"She's incredible," said Patti Heiland, principal. "We make a big deal of her birthday, and the entire school goes to visits through that day. All of our students enjoy somebody with Granny's kind of wisdom. She's very strong, and lets them know she still means business.
"We love her."
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