To a curious group of 3-year-old Head Start children on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, the 89-year-old who teaches them how to write their names is known simply as Grandma Tootsie.
On Friday, Philomene Hawley nearly stole the show as St. Vincent Healthcare's Foster Grandparent Program honored her for 26 years of volunteerism, making her the longest-serving member in the 40-year-old program.
She volunteers about five hours each schoo lday to help nearly 20 children at the Fort Belknap Head Start Center in Hays succeed academically, socially and developmentally. It keeps her young and "out of mischief," she said.
On a more serious note, Hawley said she serves because working with kids is fun.
"They are so innocent, so trusting, so loving," Hawley said.
There are times, Hawley said with a smile, that she must tell them to "behave," but hastens to add that those times are rare. She then turns somber.
"My wish for them is that none of them would ever have to go to war," she said.
Hawley was one of 57 foster grandparents who donated at total 50,000 hours during the past year to be recognized at a lunch. The event, held at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana, attracted about 150 people.
Barb Brady, director of the Foster Grandparent Program for St. Vincent Healthcare, said the grandparents help classroom teachers provide a safe and supportive environment. They are also there to give extra attention to children who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
"She's an angel," Brady said of Hawley. "She just keeps going and going. The kids just love her."
The Foster Grandparent Program is a national volunteer program providing older Americans the opportunity to put their life experiences to work helping children in their communities. Foster Grandparents serve as mentors to at-risk youth in schools, nonprofit day cares, Head Start centers and after-school and summer programs.
The St. Vincent Healthcare Foster Grandparent Program is a federally funded volunteer program through the Corporation for National and Community Service. The program serves these counties: Yellowstone, Big Horn, Carbon, Musselshell, Golden Valley, Rosebud and Blaine and also serves the Crow, Fort Belknap and Northern Cheyenne Reservations.