Foster Grandparents Make a Difference

The Foster Grandparents of Northside Child Development Center

At Catholic Charities, volunteers make a difference every day. For Sando Cooke (79) and Irene Ford (68) of Minneapolis, volunteer shifts take place daily in the classrooms of Northside Child Development Center (NCDC). Sando and Irene are part of the Foster Grandparents Program—a collaboration between the national Americorps Seniors Program and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

Volunteering as foster grandparents brings joy to Sando and Irene and—they explain—soothes trauma from their past.

Foster Grandparent

Then and Now

Sando and Irene came to the United States as refugees in 2007. “We came together to the country. The same year from Africa—Liberia.” Irene explained, “And [we joined] the same church”.

Since arriving in Minnesota, Sando and Irene have lived near each other in public housing—and for the past 12 years, they have volunteered together. Having worked in childcare in Africa, and with big families (including many grandchildren) of their own, you couldn’t find more qualified grandparents.

Foster Grandparents at NCDC

Volunteering as “Grandma”

A typical day for the foster grandmothers starts with an early morning city bus ride to NCDC by 8:00 a.m. Once there, Sando goes to work with two classrooms of toddlers, and Irene heads to the infant room.

“I come here because I love it. I love children.” said Sando, “I sit down with them while they’re eating. They call me Grandma. ‘Grandma’ makes me happy.”

Following duties-as-assigned by teachers in their respective classrooms, Sando and Irene do everything from preparing snacks to dancing with the children. “I like working hard” said Sando, “It makes me feel good to do real work.”

Foster Grandparents at NCDC

Healing in Community

But volunteering is more than work for Sando and Irene. “When I’m in my house, there’s nobody to talk with, I only think about what I’ve seen in the war”, Sando explained in a recent Star Tribune interview. “When I ran away [from Liberia], it was me and my children on our own. We went in a refugee camp in Ghana. So, when I come to the daycare, I’m happy to be with the kids. I see my children in these kids.”

Nodding as Sando spoke, Irene added, “that’s why I share myself and will come every day—our people love us, and we love to be with them. That’s why we are here.”



1. Sign up for a Volunteer Shift: Catholic Charities has daily volunteer shifts available at a variety of program locations—it’s easy to sign up and requires no long-term commitment!

2. Contact Us About Custom Volunteer Opportunities: We welcome people of all faiths and will work with you to find an opportunity that matches your skills and interests. We offer both on-site and off-site opportunities for individuals and groups.

3. Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter for agency updates and opportunities to get involved!

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