They call her Grandma Mimi.
Her name is Amelia Donaldson, but to the students at Omaha's Pinewood Elementary she's like a nana.
Donaldson, 83, is a foster grandparent at the school, a role she's filled for nearly 10 years. The grandparent program, which connects people age 55 and older with children in need, is run by the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.
Donaldson, given the nickname Mimi by her niece decades ago, is a former nurse who has always connected with children.
She was a foster parent and had more than 10 foster children over the years.
Donaldson started her work as a foster grandparent at Pinewood in 2003.
She helps students learn vocabulary words. She helps them learn subtraction and multiplication. She listens as they read aloud.
Boosting them academically is important. But part of her mission is to lift their spirit.
There is one boy at school who frowns a lot, she said.
"I say, 'Give me a smile,'" she said. "He just gives me the biggest smile."
She remembers another boy who never got in trouble, but one day she saw him in the school office because of discipline. Donaldson says she whispered something in his ear, and she never saw him in the office again.
"I told him, 'This is not like you. Don't let the world take you over. You want to grow up and be a good man. You want to be somebody we are proud of,'" she said. "I told him we loved him."
Donaldson was born and raised in Omaha and graduated from Omaha Central High School. She became a nurse and worked at Methodist Hospital for about 14 years starting in the late 1950s.
She then worked for the Visiting Nurse Association and later joined family members in running a beauty supply store in Omaha.
Her family closed the business in 1995 and several years later she became a foster parent.
Donaldson said the foster grandparent program, a national effort that is federally funded, has been a great way to stay involved in the lives of children.
The students and teachers are like family to her, she said. Last summer she broke her femur in a fall at a drugstore and teachers fixed dinners and brought them to her home. Students wrote get-well cards.
"If you show love,'' she said, "you will get love."
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