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Arlene Gamache is just one foster grandparent helping area kids

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It is no secret that children thrive on supportive families and positive role models. Grandparents are often a source of both, but for the times when grandparents aren’t, or can’t, be around, there are sometimes people like Arlene Gamache.

Gamache knows that children need encouragement and she is not hesitant to admit that she enjoys being able to give that to them. That’s why she is a foster grandparent at Pine River-Backus School.

Gamache has been fostering at PR-B for 10 years. It all began when her husband passed away. She found that she had a lot of time on her hands, so when a friend from church introduced her to the Foster Grandparent Program, she signed right up.

Since then, Gamache has bonded with many students; some she had never met before and some were her actual grandchildren. Regardless, her role is the same: to root for the kids in her classes so they know they are supported.

“I like Grandma Arlene because she helps us with a lot of our work,” said third-grade student Kaylee Rice.

Gamache acts as a teacher’s aide, but a very special one — one who hugs. She assists students not only with their academics, but also with their emotions. She donates most of her time to Susan TeHennepe and her third-grade class.

“They love her because she’s a grandma and a lot of kids don’t have grandmas around,” TeHennepe said. “A lot of kids come to school with different things. They had a rough start or their pipes were frozen and if they come and a grandma’s not here they’re just crushed. It doesn’t matter who else is here, they need a grandma, and that’s one of the things I always hear, ‘I need my grandma’. It’s just that rock.”

Grandma Arlene’s presence in the classroom isn’t just helping the students, either. Even the students can tell you how important she is to Mrs. T.

“She helps Mrs. T by helping her do the corrections on all of our papers, ’cause she has a lot of them,” student Jake Mills said.

“I would be lost without them,” TeHennepe said. “It’s just huge the impact they have on kids. It is so special and I keep saying if they quit, I retire, because I’m done for. There’s no way I would survive without my grandmas.”

That’s not all, because, believe it or not, Gamache considers herself the lucky one in this situation.

“I get many hugs every day,” she said. “It’s just very enjoyable and the kids are so fun and sweet. I get more than I give, I think.”

Gamache is not the only foster grandparent. Between Pine River-Backus Elementary School and the Backus Head Start there are currently nine foster grandmothers. The program is sponsored by the Corporation for National Service and the Minnesota Board on Aging and administrated by Lutheran Social Service.

The program began in 1965 as a way to encourage seniors to do community service. Pine River-Backus Elementary School has had foster grandparents for more than 10 years.

These volunteers are valuable aides at the school and they volunteer a minimum of 10 hours at the school each week.

“This is a program that makes a difference in the lives of kids, and also in their academic progress. Schools are always willing to partner with us. I am proud to know that our volunteers change lives every day,” said Mar Kuha of Lutheran Social Service. “Arlene is a shining example of how important senior volunteers are to the fabric of the community.”

Though PR-B does not currently have any foster grandfathers, the school is open to the possibility.

All foster grandparents are expected to be kid-friendly and must go through a background check before being hired. The volunteers in this program provide support for students, teachers and even parents by helping to nurture young children. The program is supposed to result in not only better grades and happier children, but also improved relationships between different generations.

If you are 46 or older and would like more information about volunteering as a foster grandparent, contact Mar Kuha at or 218-547-4626.