SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Most weekdays, Jeanette Winborn, age 78, heads to St. Margaret’s House to perform a very special service.
Winborn is a foster grandparent with the Foster Grandparent Program for residents of Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. She works with all the children who come to St. Margaret’s with their mothers.
“After my husband passed, I needed to get out of the house,” Winborn told the South Bend Tribune. “You see, I’m a people person and I have a special love for children, so when I heard about the Foster Grandparent Program, I thought to myself that’s something I could do. And I’ve been caring for children in this community since 1999.”
From about 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, she can be seen cuddling babies and toddlers while their mothers are in classes. She listens to the young ones, reads with them and tries to make them feel good about themselves. And she is not afraid to lovingly discipline them, sometimes to their unhappiness.
“I love them, but it’s important to teach a child,” Winborn said. “Today’s children need to learn right and wrong, and I’m old enough to know the difference.”
Winborn also has been a foster grandma in many South Bend schools, for the South Bend Housing Authority and for the past seven years at St. Margaret’s, a day center helping women and children. Health permitting, she plans to keep on keeping on.
The Foster Grandparent Program offers those age 55 and older volunteer opportunities to serve as mentors, tutors and caregivers for special needs or at-risk children and youth. The foster grandparents are paired with students to help them improve their reading skills. Volunteers also serve in day care centers and other locations where children are in need of some care.
“Mrs. Jeanette is wonderful with the children,” said Frannie Alford, one of the women who goes to St. Margaret’s House. “Just today, a little girl about 4 years old was running around trying to find her to give her a picture she had colored for her. She ever so gently stooped down to her level, took the picture and told her thank you. She said, ‘I will treasure it.’ It just touched my heart because she loves these children so much.”
Winborn says being a grandmother and great-grandmother herself makes her job easy.
“I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when they react to my hug,” she said. “But they are not all receptive to my touch, but in time they all come around.”
Some of the women who come to St. Margaret’s House but don’t have children say Winborn is important to them, too.
“Mrs. Jeanette is not only good to the children, she is good to us as well,” said Mary Scales, of South Bend. “She can tell when you’re feeling down or someone is having a bad day. She just walks over to them and talks with them, and before you know it, it’s all better.”
Winborn said she recommends that other senior citizens get involved in the program, if only to get out of the house and to help children.
“It’s a blessing,” she said. “You know, when you stay home, you think too much, so get out and do something for somebody.”