Isobel Holmes is an 89-year-old ball of energy! She has been active in the Foster Grandparent Program (FGP) since 1982. Eighteen years of volunteer service to one program is quite an achievement, not to mention the thousands of children’s lives she has touched.
After retiring from a full-time job, Holmes began looking for something to “keep busy.” Like most people, she went to an employment agency where she was told that she was “too old” for most of their jobs and should try volunteer work for FGP.
When Holmes began with FGP she was living outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was volunteering at Hissom (a residential facility for children who needed a safe environment). Their clients included mentally and physically handicapped children, as well as children who had been taken from abusive homes. Most of her days were spent being a grandmother – reading stories, playing board games and walking, or pushing wheelchair-bound children around the campus. But, the learning was not just for the children – it was at Hissom that with one of the children that Holmes, well into her 70’s, Holmes learned to ride a bike.
Three years ago Holmes moved to a small community outside of Oklahoma City and wanted to remain active with the FGP. She took it upon herself to find the program closest to her, completed orientation and became the first Foster Grandparent in Choctaw, Oklahoma at L.W. Westfall Elementary School.
Currently, Holmes works individually with kindergartners doing art projects, reading, playing, talking and being the grandmotherly influence that many of these children do not have. She arrives at school around 8am and does not leave until nearly 3pm everyday – in spite of the fact the program only allows her four hours a day. She is dedicated to helping these children regardless of her time and tiredness.
Holmes even spends her off time at the senior center promoting FGP and trying to recruit and mobilize new members. She is the motivator of the group. There are currently 40 members in this program and many of them use Holmes as their yardstick. They often say, “If Isobel can do this at 90, I can do it at 65!” She inspires many of them to continue their service while reminding everyone, including staff, that we do this for the children.
Her uniqueness comes about when you talk to her. She really works with the children in the way in which they like to learn. A good example of this is that she rewards children by telling them stories. Many people do not remember presents from their grandparents but the stories can last forever as a piece of living history. She teaches children that the elderly are not just a population of people sitting around waiting to die but are, in fact, viable members of society who can continue to give back while keeping busy.