Such an everyday question. “What are you doing?” rerouted Luz Jaime's life.
Jaime, of Oklahoma City, had worked for years in the retail business, but was now at home. Her son and husband had both died. And her daughter, Lydia Benson, was grown and had a family. Jaime had time, too much of it, she said in looking back.
But the change in direction came when Benson called her mom and asked “What are you doing?”
“I said, ‘I'm coordinating hangers,'” Jaime said.
“You're doing what?” Benson asked.
“I said, ‘I'm hanging my clothes but I want my blouses in this color of hanger and ..'.” Jaime recalled. Jaime's daughter stopped her and said, “Mother, get out of that house, do something.”
That “something” is “really something,” Jaime said. In the late 1990s, she started work in the state Department of Human Services' Foster Grandparent Program.
To participate, an individual must be at least 55 years old, enjoy working with children, be in reasonably good health and able to serve a minimum of 15 hours per week. A day might include helping a student review spelling words, reading aloud, listening to a student read or simply helping them do an assigned task.
Jaime met all the requirements, and started helping at Capitol Hill Elementary School. The woman who was once bored and arranging clothes by the color of her hangers received a certificate of service this year. It read, “ ... in recognition of 15,747 valuable hours donated through April 2013.”
Angela Houston is principal at Capitol Hill, which has just over 500 students in pre-K through sixth grade. Jaime has helped in second grade in years past, but this year, is assisting students in first grade.
“She is wonderful to work with our kids in small groups, assisting the teacher, helping them with math or reading or whatever they ask her to do,” Houston said. “She is also a blessing for all of the adults because she has a positive attitude. She's always smiling when she comes in. She's not a negative person at all and we love seeing that grandmother-type role for our kids.
“I'm sure she gets a blessing from them, but she's even a greater blessing for all of us here.”
Jaime said the experience is about much more than education.
In part, it's about compassion and restoring or instilling confidence.
“There was this little girl years and years ago and she came in so sad looking,” Jaime said. “Well, she was so far behind in her class. Everybody ignored her and the teachers couldn't help that much because you've got 25 to 30 children, you can't help one.”
But Jaime could, and did.
“She and I would sit in the corner and it took her a long time to even look at a word and let me know what that word was or if she knew it or not,” Jaime said. “We did connect, and we've had several children like that.
“Just the other day, I had this little boy that kept making his numbers backward, very, very common. And he finally got it. That look in his eyes ... I mean he had that look that said, ‘I did it, I did it.'”
Jaime gets up at 5:30 to 6 a.m. each weekday and assists at Capitol Hill from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. She receives $2.65 an hour, but the money is certainly not her motivation. It's the children. Jaime said she believes there are also other benefits.
“I think it's good for my health,” she said. “I have friends who do nothing. They get up at 10 or 11 o'clock. I ask them why and they say they don't have anything to do all day long. That kind of day is boring.
“This is keeping me busy and keeping my mind occupied. I get up and go to school.”