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Freeman named Foster Grandparent of the Year

While many people are eager to reach retirement age so they can finally relax and have some time to themselves, there’s a group of local people who would rather spend their free time taking care of children and helping them learn.
The Foster Grandparent Program, which celebrated its 38th year here locally, held their annual recognition banquet on Wednesday where they honored those who serve in the program and gave out their top award for Foster Grandparent of the Year.
This year’s recipient was Hattie Freeman who serves as a foster grandparent in Kim Palmer’s first-grade classroom at Russellville’s West Elementary School.
Freeman has been with the Foster Grandparent Program for four years, all of which have been spent in Palmer’s classroom.
“During my 19 years of teaching I have had four other foster grandparents, but Mrs. Freeman is one of the best there is,” said Palmer, who nominated Freeman for the award.
“She really loves the children and truly cares about them and their well-being.
“She brings snacks every day just to make sure the students who aren’t able to bring a snack have something to eat like the other children do, and she buys gifts for the children at Christmas and Valentine’s Day to make the students feel special.”
In addition to making the students feel loved and cared for, Palmer said Freeman also helps her with educational activities.
“Mrs. Freeman plays learning games with the students like sight-word bingo and she listens to them read and helps them learn their words,” Palmer said.
“And when she’s not working with the kids, she’s helping me by doing things like preparing activities for the next day, making copies, cutting things out – all things that I would have to stay after school to do if it wasn’t for Mrs. Freeman.
“She’ll even help the other teachers who need something done. She loves to help other people and she’s been such a big help to me over the past four years.”
Freeman just smiled as Palmer talked about what a big help she has been in the classroom.
“I love what I do so it’s not like work to me,” Freeman said. “My favorite thing is taking care of the children and making sure they learn.”
That love for the next generation was really the driving force behind Freeman’s decision to join the Foster Grandparent Program in the first place.
“There are many children who just need love and attention and someone to listen to them,” Freeman said.
“Teachers are very good at doing that, but they can’t be everywhere at once.
“Foster grandparents are here to listen to the children and help them when the teacher is helping other students and focusing on teaching them what they need to know.”
Freeman said she enjoys seeing the children make progress in the classroom.
“I love working with my teacher, Mrs. Palmer, because she is very supportive of the children and she supports me too,” Freeman said.
“First-grade is a critical time because the children are learning how to read. Seeing them make progress with their words is a great thing.
“It makes me happy to go home at the end of my day and know those children are being taken care of and they’re learning what they need to learn to move forward with their lives.
“It just makes you feel good to know you’re a small part of that.”
Freeman said she planned to work as a foster grandparent for as long as she could.
“As long as I can make it up here each day, this is what I want to be doing,” she said.
Jessica Latham, director of the Foster Grandparent Program, said the program is dedicated to making sure compassionate, caring senior citizens are given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young students, and Freeman is a prime example of that.
“Mrs. Freeman sees the best in each student,” Latham said. “She is always glad to help them reach their goals and dreams, and we’re glad to have her as part of this program.”
The Foster Grandparent Program serves the counties of Franklin, Colbert, Lauderdale, Marion and Winston, and Latham said they could always use more people who were willing to give back to the community by helping school-age children.
For more information about the Foster Grandparent Program, call 256-332-6800.