Barb Schemenauer isn’t a typical grandmother. Although she’s raised seven children of her own, her grandchildren number in the dozens – her adopted grandchildren, that is.

Seventeen young students at the Lake Holcombe School crowded around Schemenauer Monday, each excited to present her with birthday gifts. Not only is Schemenauer – fondly known as “Grandma Barb” to the Lake Holcombe students – celebrating her 80th birthday this December, but she’s capping off her 18th year as a foster grandparent for the school district.

“We’re going to surprise her. She doesn’t know anything about it,” said Tracy Geist, one of Schemenauer’s daughters, who came to the school Monday to watch her mother be honored.

As for Schemenauer herself? She remembers all the students she works with, she said. “Every day I’ll hear kids say in the hall, ‘Hi, Grandma Barb!’” she laughed.

Schemenauer has fostered students one-on-one at the Lake Holcombe School District for almost two decades; she volunteers through the CESA 10 Foster Grandparent Program. It’s a national initiative, and the Chippewa Falls CESA 10 chapter currently connects 46 foster grandparents to 14 different local schools.

“It’s a huge impact they have,” said Mary Jo Hanson, the program’s supervisor. “They’re paired one-on-one with kids who could use some extra attention … The kids get that attention academically, and they also get a relationship, so they develop socially and emotionally. It’s all in one package with this older adult.”

The students’ bond with “Grandma Barb” is plain to see. Students from kindergarten through high school greet her with smiles and waves; the younger children compete for her attention.

Joy Webster, a Lake Holcombe School teacher, has taught for the district for 31 years, and said Schemenauer has fostered students in her classroom for 18 of those years.

“She ties everyone’s shoes, and does above and beyond what foster grandparents are supposed to do … She’s had students that are now seniors in high school that will stop in and see her,” Webster said.

She plans to continue fostering children at the school, Schemenauer said.

The program’s volunteers – who must be 55 or older – complete an application and interview process and receive a small stipend if they are income-qualified. All are reimbursed for travel and receive a school meal, Hanson said, and once a month, must attend training at the CESA 10 facility in Chippewa Falls.

“We’re always looking for additional foster grandparents … people who are passionate about working with kids,” Hanson said.

For more information about the Foster Grandparents Program or to apply, contact Hanson at 715-456-8543 or at mhanson@cesa10.k12.wi.us.

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