Eighty-three year old Stella Bilodeau gets up at 5am four days a week and takes the 6:50am bus from her home in Nashua to the Adult Learning Center. She has done this regularly for the past eleven years. When she walks into the ALC she goes from being Stella Bilodeau to “Nana Stella,” the foster grandparent in the preschool room of the Early Childhood Adventures Program. Her typical day at the ALC starts at 7:15AM and lasts until 11:15AM and she says she loves every minute of it. Judging from the smiles on the faces of the three year olds she encounters each day, they love it too.
Nana Stella came to the ALC through the Friends Program in Concord, NH. The Friends Program describes itself as “a non-profit agency that recruits, trains and manages volunteers.” Their mission is to “strengthen communities by building relationships that empower people, encourage community service and restore faith in the human spirit.” They do this by “providing youth mentoring, emergency housing and fulfilling the needs of seniors and retired people to actively contribute to the community.” Stella has been contributing by nurturing children at the ALC each morning. Her activities include helping with breakfast, playing with the children and, her favorite activity, sitting on her special rocking chair and reading to the children each day.
Stella realizes most people her age are not interested in getting up and going to “work” each day. A sedentary life, however, is not for her. “You have to have something to do, something to get up for each day,” she says. She attributes the children and staff at the ALC for keeping her young. “The teachers here are so good to me. They treat me like I am one of them. I love being around young people.” The teachers in classroom feel equally lucky to have the extra hands as program director Jane Marquis notes, “Volunteers like Nana Stella are vital to an organization like the ALC. We are so blessed to have her.”
Stella recently celebrated her eighty-third birthday and shows no signs of slowing down. After leaving the ALC each day, she meets a group of friends at Denny’s to socialize and then walks home, often not getting home before four in the afternoon. Her days are filled and she likes it that way. When she isn’t at the ALC or with her friends, you can bet she is focused on her beloved New England Patriots. Nana Stella is fulfilled and happy.
When asked specifically about her role as foster grandma, her eyes light up. She has seen hundreds of children pass through her classroom, but admits, “there is always one special one,” a child in each class who she seems to connect with who searches her out with a book looking for some alone time. “There was one boy named Caleb,” she remembers. “He was very special.” He has long since left the ALC, but she quickly turns to another little boy pulling at her pant leg and helps him wash his hands before breakfast. There always seems to be enough of Nana Stella to go around, and the children at the Adult Learning Center are lucky to have her in their lives.