It started with an email five years ago from Brenda Starr-Jude, Adult Advocacy Staff Guardian, at Catholic Charities. During the holiday season, Brenda was looking for donors and volunteers to adopt an elderly client through Catholic Charities’ Project Bethlehem program.
“Most people tend to forget about seniors during the holidays,” says Brenda. “My clients, the majority of them, have no one visiting except for me.”
A lot of Brenda’s senior clients in the Guardianship Program are wards of the state who have little or no family and are unable to take care of themselves.
Brenda reached out to Jana, a 6th grade teacher at Eastern Elementary School.
“I asked the other sixth grade teachers if they would be interested in doing this together,” says Jana.
Every year since then, students and their teachers – Jana, Joni and others – adopted a senior through the Catholic Charities’ program.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to think of other people,” Jana continues.
In recent years, they have adopted two seniors whom they have nicknamed “Grandma Virginia” and “Grandpa Herman.” During the holiday season, the students bring in monetary donations to help purchase gifts from their adopted grandparents’ Christmas wish list.
Last year, Grandpa Herman — who was diagnosed with a form of dementia — needed a flat panel television that could be mounted onto his wall for safety reasons. Joni and her students decided to step up to the task.
“That was our goal, and the students were really excited that we had enough money to buy him the T.V.,” Joni says.
When it came time to deliver the presents, Grandpa Herman was overjoyed. As Brenda walked into his room with the neatly wrapped television, she asked, “Mr. P., do you want to open this?” He responded with excitement, “Oh no, it’s too big!”
The giving does not stop after Christmas. Throughout the year, the students participate in projects to send to their adopted grandparents.
“We try to remember them during the major holidays: Thanksgiving, their birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. This Halloween, we bought them candy,” Joni and Jana said.
Grandma Virginia loves to show Brenda the messages the students write on her cards.
“It’s impacted both of their lives, but it’s been especially wonderful for Virginia,” Brenda says. “She is fully alert, and the students have become like extended family to her. She was only married for four or five years and never had any children. She’s told me they’re like her grandchildren.”
“It’s not just a one-time giving project during the holiday season,” Brenda adds. “It’s truly an adoption.”