NEWARK — The touching close of “Grandma” Nadine Brill’s heartwarming talk at the weekly Rotary Club meeting Oct. 17 brought the room full of Newark Rotarians, and their guests in the Quality Inn dining room, to their feet with an equally heartwarming round of applause.
How could they not after just hearing the 84-year-old guest speaker conclude with a stellar quote after a delightful time of her sharing recollections and humorous anecdotes about the volunteer work of she and some others for more than five years in Grandma’s Room at Kelley School?
“I always say I could be home in my rocking chair and die a little every day or go to school and live a whole lot,’’ she said tearfully. “There are no bad kids. Just kids learning about life and trying to grow up.’’
Since the inception of Grandma’s Room, Brill has spearheaded the amazingly generous and giving volunteer effort, of she, her husband, “Grandpa” Keith Brill; and a few other selfless individuals who currently include: “Grandma” Kay Groover, “Nana” Joan Harris, “Aunt” Linda Donaldson,“Grandma” Pat Schwab; “Grandpa” Bob Goodman; and “Grandma” Dolly Velte.
Three days each week, “Grandma” Nadine and “Grandpa” Keith — and depending on the day, a combination of two or more of the other volunteers _ faithfully make “Grandma’s Room” a wonderful place for many Kelley School children.
Nadine Brill, who retired in 2003 after 25 years as executive director of the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross, and who has and is still is involved in other charitable causes in the community and region, graciously signed on to be the “Linking Hearts and Hands” coordinator at Kelley School during the 2007-08 school year when Kelley School expanded its outreach to senior citizens.
A year later, with former Superintendent Henry Hann’s permission and Kelley School Principal Chris Mizro’s help, “Grandma’s Room” was born, giving caring retirees an opportunity at Kelley School to make a difference in the lives of students there.
And that they have done.
“Grandma’s Room” which began its sixth year in September, has made a very important difference in the lives of many, many children since it opened in 2008-09.
It has provided a highly-nurturing environment for children in a classroom furnished and decorated to give it a cozy, home-like feel with lots of donated items like a chestnut dining room table, a couch, a stove and refrigerator, a piano, a rocking chair, doilies, a braided rug, end tables, lamps, plants, games, toys, children's books and more.
“Grandma” Nadine told Rotarians that good manners, respect, responsibility and sharing are reinforced in “Grandma’s Room” as children participate in lots of thought-provoking and fun activities including playing games, putting together jigsaw puzzles, arts and crafts, reading and more — all with the intent of boosting classroom skills.
“We are there to help the teachers in their very important work,’’ she said.
The room is open to children from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursdays, “Grandma” Nadine explained, noting, however, that kids will often stop by at the beginning or the end of the day to just say “Hi,” show the volunteers their new sneakers or share something important that is happening in their lives.
Sadly, she also noted, that for some of the children, “Grandma’s Room” volunteers may fulfill a very important role that may be going unmet outside of school.
“There are some kids who have home lives we would not call normal,’’ she said quietly. “They have no one to read to them or encourage them. I could write books on some of the things we have heard over the years. Some that make me smile and laugh and some, that make me cry.’’
In addition to her work in the school, Brill often makes cookies at home to take to school to give to students who frequent the room, not just for extra help, but also to eat their lunch there if they have met their classroom goals. The other volunteers often bring in goodies for the children as well. Every student who comes in the room is also given a Jolly Rancher hard candy before they leave. The Brills often travel to BJ’s in Geneva on weekends in order to replenish the stash for the room.
The reach of “Grandma’s Room” extends far beyond the classroom, with the Brills — reporting they generally cannot make a quick shopping trip to Wegmans or Walmart. There, they often see Kelley students who visit the room, or Newark Middle School or Newark High School students who used to come there. The students generally want their parents or others to meet “Grandma” and “Grandpa” and conversation ensues.
Other “Grandma’s Room” volunteers are experiencing the same.
“Nothing warms our hearts as much as to be in Wegmans or Walmart and hear, ‘Grandma, Grandpa, I love you,’” “Grandma” Nadine told Rotarians. “We have developed a trust with our kids. And we have seen so many positive changes in some of the kids we’ve been privileged to work with over the last few years.
“Grades 3-5 students at Kelley are at a delightful age, she continued. “They want to learn. They are inquisitive and eager to please and share with us. They are fun to be with and bring back memories of our childhoods.”
At the beginning of her talk, she urged Rotarians to think back and remember special times they spent with grandparents, aunts and uncles or other older people like neighbors.
“Grandma” Nadine explained that’s what children who come to “Grandma’s Room,” who may not have grandparents or aunts and uncles close by, are experiencing on a daily basis.
But she also was quick to note that she believes the benefits the volunteers receive from interacting with the young are equally rewarding.
“We are so blessed to be able to do what we do with and for the children,’’ she said, urging Rotarians to visit the room when time permits to see for themselves.
Superintendent Matt Cook, who attended the Rotary luncheon and who has previously worked with Brill in various ways in her capacity as Red Cross director, hugged and thanked the Brills after the luncheon for their extraordinary work in “Grandma’s Room.’’
“We couldn’t have someone who has earned more respect in our community and region because of her years of service in helping others than Nadine Brill spearheading this wonderful outreach to children,” he said. “She, along with some other remarkable volunteers over the last five years have touched young lives in a significant way at Kelley School. We are very grateful for their selfless work on behalf of so many children and that this special place called “Grandma’s Room” is providing both young and old memories they’ll always cherish.’’
Kelley School Principal Teresa Prinzi, who was unable to attend the Rotary meeting, wholeheartedly agrees with Cook.
“Words are not adequate to express our thanks to this wonderfully caring group of “Grandma’s Room” volunteers for the important difference they are making in our school. They make Kelley students feel extra special and we could never tell them enough how extra special they are to all of us,’’ she said.