'Foster Grandparents' add experience, wisdom, and love to some Hartford preschools (Sarah Cody, WTNH, 2/6/19)

CAFCA | February 06, 2019 |

While singing songs or making crafts, some Hartford preschoolers turn to Isabel Guzman for guidance.  She's not the official classroom teacher.  She has a special role. "They call me Abuela," she says. Guzman is part of the Foster Grandparents Program, a partnership between the Nutmeg Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Community Renewal Team

"It’s quite unique but it’s what happens everyday in our classrooms," says CRT's Director of Early Care and Education, Leslie Paguada. 64-year-old Guzman had retired: "I got bored,  I do nothing and I need my kids!  I tell my husband, 'I need to go back to do something, you know?'" Now, five days a week, this mother - and, yes, grandmother - is active, sharing all the wisdom and experience that "Abuela" has to offer. 

"Give them love, teach them manners, work with them," she says.  "In the morning, it’s so beautiful when they come running and give me a hug, 'Abuela you’re here!'" "It’s about making connections with the children," says Paguada.  "Yes they’re here to learn their ABCs and 123s but it’s also about meaningful connections with the Abuelas and staff."  The program has placed 13 foster grandparents in various classrooms.  In Hartford, the community agency has five locations, providing child care and school for young kids. 

"Eligibility is for working families, non-working families, we have homeless families who bring their children to us and we’re just very happy to provide that key foundation for the children," says Paguada."That’s why I try to come more often, to give more time to spend with them, because some of them need it," says Guzman who plans to continue to share her energy and creativity for years to come. Her reward?  When elementary school students recognize her and remember the time they spent with her which was full of fun and love. "That is so beautiful, beautiful for me," she says. The foster grandparents get a small stipend, lunch and paid transportation.  CRT and NBBS are always looking for more helpers.