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'Classroom grandparents' volunteer to read with students each week at Grand Rapids school

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Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 14:32:54-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Carol Betz has been volunteering at Meadow Brook Elementary in Grand Rapids since two of her granddaughters were second-graders at the school.

"My son was going through a difficult divorce, and it was my way of seeing my granddaughters," she said. "We had lunch, and we read together in their classrooms. ... They're in high school now."

Carol still visits the school every Thursday, now joined by her husband Mike and her service dog Gamma.

"We like coming here. ... I've been doing this for 10 years, and when my husband retired, then he started coming with me," she said. "He gets his own customer, and I get my customers."

The retired couple spends about an hour one-on-one with students in Leslie Overway's second-grade classroom. The students choose a book and read aloud in the hallway to "Grandma and Grandpa" Betz, as they're called.

During that time, they explain different words, ask questions and really engage with each student.

"It's priceless. I can't imagine a Thursday without them," Leslie Overway told FOX 17. "They give our kids that good grandparent love that they need. ... Gamma is just kind of an added bonus. We think it's a good day when she falls asleep to their reading — tell the kids that they're reading like a bedtime story."

Students like Nejla Suljic and Izeir Brown said it's made them much more confident readers.

"I have fun," said Suljic. "They kind of remind me of my grandpa and grandma."

Brown added, "We're out in the hallway, and there's no one around. ... I don't get scared, and I just start reading."

It's become a highlight of the week for the couple, and something the students look forward to as well.

"The thing that I really enjoy the most is being able to observe the improvement and development of these kids as readers," Mike said. "Along with interpersonal communication skills, reading is the most essential skill a child can develop, and if they don't, they're going be lost."

The students are also learning the only thing better than reading a good book is having someone to share it with.

"It's nice that they can read, but our purpose is just make them feel like loved people," Carol told FOX 17. "It probably works both ways. They get love, and I get loved in return. So everybody wins."

As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay It Forward Persons of the Month, Carol and Mike Betz are receiving a $300 prize.

Know someone who should be featured next month? Nominate them here.

Meet John Prichard, our February Pay It Forward Person of the Month.