Virginia Hampton has served as a grandmother through at least two generations.
While she's grandmothered her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she's offered extra love to little ones outside her family as well. As the longest participant in the Northeast Missouri foster grandparent program, she's volunteered her time to 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds at Head Start since 1989. Youngsters she fostered at Head Start have brought their own children to the program. Those same children have been taught and nurtured by the same caring grandmother. One of her first foster grandchildren now works at Head Start.
Mary Miller, director of the foster grandparent program, said the bulk of foster grandparents emulate a sense of love and compassion prized in volunteers, but Hampton epitomizes the foster grandparent spirit.
"They come up and they hug her when she first comes in, and they say ‘Good morning, Grandma,'?" Miller said. "Or if she misses, they come up and say that they missed her."
Even as her foster grandchildren grow, they remember Hampton's kindness. She's been stopped in public by teenagers and older children who still call her grandma.
Even when Head Start recesses for the summertime, the foster grandmother donates her time at the library. Working with the children there helps tide her over until Head Start begins again. She rarely vacations from working with children. For Hampton, helping little ones play games and learn skills isn't volunteer work, it's her life.
"It's my life. I've been there 24 years in March. I live just a mile from the school. I still drive."
"A couple years ago we had a little girl, real little, and she'd sit by me and she'd get up on her little knees and she'd say, ‘I need a hug.'?"
"We of course help them with clay, and we help them with their numbers and their names and different things like that. They have a playtime, and we usually play with them."
"Listen, I love them little hugs. I love them little hugs, and it amazes me because maybe one will come out of different room and maybe you've never seen them before, but they'll come out and hug you and call you grandma. You hadn't even never seen them before."
"I love their hugs. They seem to need love. I feel like I can give that to them, and I get back as much if not more."
"It takes a while before they really get with it, but when they do, I always tell them how proud I am of them because they done it right. I know this one little boy and I said, ‘Oh, you set a perfect table,' and he just was so happy."
Virginia Hampton was interviewed by Staff Writer Maggie Menderski and photographed by Photo Editor Phil Carlson.