May 6, 2009 Edition

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Pauline Howard is grandmother to many

Beth Todd (from left), Amy McKenzie and Alex Willett, youth from drug free clubs in Lawrence County, perform a skit about parents hosting graduation parties during the ATOD Coalition Town Hall meeting on Thursday.

Pauline Howard of Walnut Ridge, known as Miss Pauline, has been a surrogate grandmother to literally hundreds of Lawrence County children as she has served at BRAD's Walnut Ridge Headstart Preschool Program.

"Miss Pauline is a very strong-willed, remarkable woman," said Sonia Self, Headstart teacher for 14 years. "She is dedicated and dependable, truly a well-rounded individual who has a great deal of wisdom and knowledge to share."

The oldest of seven siblings, she grew up on a farm in a strong family setting in the Strawberry area of Lawrence County. She met her future husband, R.A. Howard, in high school. Together the Howards raised three children, one of whom is now deceased. Their son, John Howard, and daughter, Paula Hutcherson, both live in Walnut Ridge. Miss Pauline, now a widow, has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She started a career working in retail in the Mississippi Delta while her husband was a manager for a chain of Sterling Stores.

"I taught my kids to become strong, thinking adults," she said. When she retired from retail after 52 years, Miss Pauline continued to be family-centered and wanted to stay busy. She laughed as she recounted one of her wise sayings, "There is no profit in dusting." So volunteering at Headstart seemed natural; first, to aid a grandchild by bridging the transition from home to the classroom, then to remain, year after year, to help the other children who needed extra love.

Headstart is a pre-school program committed to improving the lives of low-income children through developmental services that encourage education, health and family involvement.

After a while, she was approached by a Headstart supervisor who asked if she wanted to be a foster grandparent as part a program sponsored by the East Arkansas Area Agency On Aging. Miss Pauline accepted. That was 17 years ago.

A foster grandparent is assigned to especially assist four children indicated by the teacher who need extra love or attention. This is done in cooperation with the staff and special needs teacher.

Headstart Center Director Betty Cook relates that being a foster grandparent demands patience and tolerance. Cook said Headstart would welcome more foster grandparents to help. Over the last 20 years there have only been two other foster grandparents besides Miss Pauline, and she is the only one at the Walnut Ridge Headstart at this time.

"I think Miss Pauline's strong suit is helping the children in daily living, learning manners, improving social skills and interaction. She is able to teach all of this with a great deal of love," Cook said.

"Miss Pauline talks with the kids about everything, even news stories," Self said. "She is very supportive and always comforting. She gets on the kids' level to read stories and gives each of the children daily hugs and praise. She makes them feel special."

Self has worked with Miss Pauline, her room's foster grandparent, for at least 10 years. Self explained how Miss Pauline would individualize her attention by reading only to small groups and asking questions that encourage each child to think. She supports the children in whatever way they need it. Sometimes that is dancing with this girl or, another time, helping that shy boy feel confidence in himself, Self added.

Several of the children described what Miss Pauline has personally done for them:

Bethannie said, "She hugs me in the morning when I'm sad."

Jayden said, "She pats my back as I fall asleep."

Gage said, "She gives me hugs and plays with me."

Lucas said, "She walked me down the hall to wave bye to my stepdad."

Miss Pauline, now 86 years old, sees her role as "breaking down the barrier between family and school. Each child comes with a fear. I try to reach out with love to every single child who comes through the door."

Some of the children she first helped are now in college. Many who she loved into security will remember her reassuring them by saying, "Mommies never forget their boys (or their girls)."

"Miss Pauline has not only just touched the children's lives, she has helped me personally so much," said Tammy Maronde, Headstart teacher's assistant since February 2003. "She praises and encourages me to never give up. I can tell her anything."

Self agreed. She said, "On a personal note, Miss Pauline has helped me with my own life struggles by offering direction and guidance from her own rich life experiences."

"She's always right, even if you don't want to hear it!" Self added, "She is wonderful for both the staff and kids!"

Parents, too, have noticed the improvement Miss Pauline's influence has had on their children. On the last day of Headstart preschool this year a bouquet of flowers appeared with this note attached for Miss Pauline: "You are an angel in disguise. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have touched our lives in a special way! (Our son) thinks the world of you."

Headstart staff and children have not been the only ones to benefit from the service rendered by Miss Pauline.

"Headstart is a wonderful, wonderful program," Miss Pauline said. "I have benefited, as well as the children, because of sharing this love. It has been a joy to me. I look forward to coming back next year."

Those interested in learning more about the Foster Grandparent Program are encouraged to contact Nina Peeler at 800-205-6787. Nina Peeler is the foster grandparent director of the East Arkansas Area Agency On Aging.

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