- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

CAVE CITY, Ark. (AP) - Joyce Barkoff wouldn’t know what to do without the kids. Or the hugs.

“When you stop loving animals and children, you’re taking up too much room,” she told The Batesville Daily Guard (https://bit.ly/1kr1KPT).

Her mother has been gone for years, but Barkoff has never forgotten that advice. Today, she has her animals, but “they don’t talk back, and I’m a talker,” she admits with a laugh.

At Cave City Elementary where she’s known as Granny, however, the conversation doesn’t lack and the hugs are never in short supply.

“It gives you a reason to get up in the morning,” the 81-year-old said with a chuckle. “I’m a widow and I need all the hugs I can get.”

“Mondays they need an extra huggin,’” she says of the students while taking a break helping first-graders with their vowel sounds and sight words. “They just want huggin.’”

Barkoff is one of six foster grandparents at the Cave City School District, volunteering her time to help out in the classroom. Last week, she along with Barbara Glenn, Louise Wilkes, Rose Dorris, Wanda Wilkerson and Ruby Maupin, were recognized by Cave City Mayor Ron Burge for their service.

Originally from New Jersey, Barkoff and husband Harry moved to Cave City in 1980, after reading about the town in Mother Earth magazine.

They planned to continue their electronics business, but instead she worked at a grocery store before retirement while Harry worked for GenCorp.

Harry died in 2005 and Barkoff began her career as a foster grandparent four years later.

Gathered around a table with students Summer Teague, Bailey Bowers and Madison Russell, she encourages them in their work.

“You’re doing pretty good here, guys,” she tells the girls as they write out sentences on their marker boards. “Start with a capital (letter) and end it with a period.” With the next sentence being a question, she asks the girls to write the word “do” and later asks them to write their names and count how many vowels are included. “Write it over here so it comes out nice,” she tells one. “Circle your vowels.”

“Very good,” she says, smiling, brushing Bowers’ hair from her face.

Meanwhile, in Shan Johnson’s fifth-grade math class, Granny Ruby Maupin is helping students Garrett Sweat and Gracie Nail with their makeup work.

With a background in electronics, having worked with major corporations on the West Coast, completing contracts for the military that included wiring for ships, Maupin is considered a “math whiz,” according to Sheila Goff with White River Area Agency on Aging, which coordinates foster grandparent programs.

Maupin, however, just considers her knowledge of math a gift.

“I had a daddy who got to go in the service and I got an education.”

Before she became a “granny” in 2009, Maupin volunteered at the Cave City Nursing Home, visiting with residents, painting ladies’ fingernails, etc. Prior to that she worked for White-Rodgers before retiring to take care of husband Leroy when he was diagnosed with cancer.

After 50 years of not using math to the extent she once did, the subject was one she had no trouble picking back up, but she also understands how difficult it is for some people “to get into” and enjoy.

Nail said Maupin makes math fun and her “granny” last year was another she also liked, saying, “When I tried real hard, and she could tell, she sometimes told me the answers,” the 12-year-old said.

For Maupin, not only is being a foster grandparent about the children, it’s also about keeping busy.

“I’ve got to stay busy,” said the 70-year-old, who also tutors children during the summer in Batesville. “I worked all my life. . I really like to help someone, that’s all I ask.”

Maupin, Johnson said, is an asset to her class. “The kids depend on her a lot and when she’s absent they wonder where ‘Granny’ is.”

Middle school Principal Mark Smith agreed, commending all the women for their service.

“We love ‘em. They do a great job. . They have a presence.”

On a recent Thursday Barkoff, who gets up at 5 a.m. every day, couldn’t wait to get to school after two days of not being able while students completed spring testing. She made sure to bring her “granny bag” that includes stickers, pencil sharpeners - little things she knows the children will enjoy. Sometimes it’s her “magic bag,” filled with items like extra glue or markers, things she knows they may need during the day.

“It doesn’t take much to make them happy,” she said. “Making them happy makes me happy.”

The program is also one she believes is needed. “Children need you. Nursing homes need you.”

“My heart aches for them, that they’ll never know what we knew,” Barkoff says, referring to the electronics of her day, for instance, compared to those of today, which she admits she knows little about.

However, children want to know someone is listening and listening to their stories, both happy and sad, is what she strives to do.

As for those hugs, “How could that not make you happy?” she asked. “You forget about your problems. . They (the children) have enough.”


Information from: Batesville Guard, https://www.guardonline.com/

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