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Grandma Jo: Volunteering can be done at any age

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jo Nielsen, better known as Grandma Jo, surrounded by the kindergarten class. /Photo by Lorri Glawe
Jo Nielsen is one of the most popular fixtures in Nancy Thompson's kindergarten classroom.

She is better known as Grandma Jo to the students and staff. She volunteers every morning of every school day in the classroom (even longer if she is needed) and has been doing so for a little over 10 years.

Her volunteering began when her own granddaughter, Sara Nielsen, was in Thompson's classroom in the then West School and it happened almost by accident.

Grandma Jo picked up Sara and her older sister, Allyson, from the school each day, watching them until their parents - Tracy and Laura - came home.

She always arrived early at the school and waited outside but on one particular day, she saw the class outside playing with a parachute.

Thompson noticed Grandma Jo and asked if she would mind helping with their game. After the kids had left, Thompson asked her if she had fun and if she would want to come help in the classroom.

With nothing on her agenda, Grandma Jo asked when and Thompson told her, "tomorrow." And that next day, she showed up.

She has been a wonderful addition to the classroom and Thompson couldn't get along without her.

Reading is emphasized in the classroom and even at home. Grandma Jo helps in this area.

"I need her everyday," the teacher said. "She provides a wonderful service. She listens to every child read so every child has the chance to become a good reader."

Grandma Jo enjoys seeing the students' reading abilities progress and watching them grow over the nine months they are in school. She also believes the students are getting smarter every year!

In addition to reading, she helps where she is needed and often accompanies the class on field trips.

She is in the classroom each morning when the students arrive and greets each student. She has been such a big hit through the years that even students who have moved on to other grades come into the kindergarten room to tell her good morning and she is never ignored when she passes students in the hall. "It makes me feel good I left a little bit of a good impression on them."

Here's what they say about her.

"I like her because she's my friend," said student Tatiana. Student Genesis shared that every morning Grandma Jo "gives me a big smile and a hug." And Michael thinks she is "nice and funny."

"I love little kids," Grandma Jo said. "They make my day. They are all so loveable and it is fun to see them; they get so excited!"

She loves having so many "grandkids" to hug.

She doesn't plan to "retire" from her volunteering any time soon.

Grandma Jo has four children - Tracy (and Laura), Becky (and Dave), Brenda (and Jon) and Barbie (and Steve), eight grandchildren and one step-grandson.

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