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'Arms to tie shoes, hands to hold'

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Marlys Brezinsky, Mary Klein and Cathy Svihel are better known as Grandma Marlys, Grandma Mary and Grandma Cathy for three days a week at Crosslake Community School (CCS).

The three women help students in the classroom with reading, math and just about anything else they might need. They’re part of Lutheran Social Services’ foster grandparent program.

“It’s another set of eyes, arms to tie shoes, hands to hold,” said Tami Martin, CCS director.

In the lunchroom, Brezinsky helps students put mayonnaise on their sandwiches, a simple but helpful act to both students and the busy school staff.

Most of the time, though, Brezinsky, Klein and Svihel can be found rotating from room to room and helping students learn.

They work on timed reading with younger grades, read in the hallway with students, help with snow pants, work on math flash cards, play games with students, help study spelling and help students get ready to go home.

Really, their range of work is broad.

“It’s kind of like coaching and being an encourager,” Svihel said.

All three of the CCS foster grandmas learned about the program from a notice in their church bulletin. They’re retired and live in Crosslake or Merrifield.

Brezinsky has three grandchildren, all who attended CCS but are now in middle school or high school.

“I like children,” Brezinsky said of why she joined the program. “I just thought it’d be fun.”

Brezinsky said she can see the children are appreciative of her being there, and that all the students are cooperative and caring.

Svihel said it’s rewarding to watch the students learn and grow from the help they receive from everyone involved in their education.

“They’re so eager to learn,” Svihel said, adding that the overall interaction is a good thing.

“It’s so good for kids to be with older people and to be with different age groups. We benefit and they benefit,” Svihel said.

Klein enjoys being called “grandma.”

“I love being called Grandma Mary. I wasn’t a mother and now I’m a grandma. I love it,” Klein said.

CCS has had foster grandparents in the school almost since its beginning, Martin said.

Foster grandparents receive a small stipend for the work they do, along with travel reimbursement, according to the Lutheran Social Services website. Martin said there’s no cost to the school.

Martin said the program is especially helpful for younger students as they get the one-on-one reading time and letter recognition work.

Furthermore, just having more people around who care about them is beneficial, Martin said.

“We get to love them,” Klein said. “We get to encourage them. I love coming here because you get so much from those kids. They’re all special, all unique.”