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Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Foster grandparent Georgia Dennis

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows too many kids start school without the social skills needed to succeed. Researchers say more supportive early-life experiences can help.

That’s where 81-year-old Georgia Dennis comes in. She’s been making sure kids in Milwaukee get that experience and love for the last 15 years.

“Do you know what that is?” she asked two students at the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. “A ‘D’!” the students answered. Dennis quickly told them good job and gave them high fives.

Dennis gives out a lot of high fives.

“They know anytime anything isn't going right, they can come to grandma,” she said.

With her white hair and soft smile, Dennis looks like a grandmother. She volunteers as a foster grandparent through the Social Development Commission. She works with kids on their school work during the summer and is there to greet them when the school year begins in the fall.

“Some of them, we have to tell them how to sit, when to sit, what their ears are for,” she explained. “It's just like being a natural grandparent.”

That’s something she’s a natural at. Dennis has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren of her own. She retired in Chicago after working for Head Start for 20 years. So working as a foster grandparent is a good fit.

The program connects adults over the age of 55 with elementary kids, and the adults help them learn their letters and numbers.

“Most of the time, the schools are pretty crowded,” said Michelle Allison, the SDC’s Foster Grandparent Coordinator. “The classrooms are pretty crowded. The kids don't have the chance to have that interaction with the teacher.”

Dennis is there to give them the love only a grandma can give.

“So when the children come into the school, we're there to comfort and hold them,” Dennis said. “Make them feel secure. That's something I really enjoy doing!”

It’s something the kids clearly enjoy, too.

“Every time they come through the door, they'll stop, "hi granny!" she said.

Allison said the Foster Grandparent Program is a nationwide program, and there are three branches in the state of Wisconsin. The volunteers work in private schools, charter schools, day care facilities, with children from preschool all the way up to sixth grade.

“All the extra love and all the extra care that the grandparents bring to the classroom is what really helps some of the kids to grow and thrive,” Allison said.

Milwaukee’s program currently has 42 foster grandparents, and the SDC is always looking for more. Right now, they especially need foster grandfathers. You can find more information at cr-sdc.org.

And CBS 58 would like to hear from you! If you have a suggestion for “Natalie’s Everyday Heros,” send Natalie an email at nshepherd@cbs58.com, or on Facebook. Tell us about someone doing good work in your community.


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