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Students, teachers alike love Davis Elementarys Grandma Robbie

Roberta Bottemiller volunteers as a foster grandparent
by: John Klicker, Grandma Robbie helps Sigal Tzafir, 7, with a writing project in first-grade teacher Carol Mack’s Davis Elementary School classroom on Tuesday, June 27. Mack says she admires Robbie’s versatility and her ability to identify with the children.

Roberta Bottemiller, 69, has never been a mother, but she makes one heck of a grandma.

At Davis Elementary School, where Bottemiller volunteers, she is simply 'Grandma Robbie.'

'She's nice. When we need help with reading, Grandma Robbie helps us,' says 7-year-old Francisco Lopez-Santana.

'And she reads to us, too,' adds Francisco's classmate, 7-year-old David Alvarez, Jr. 'She reads us books about sharks! Now we know all about sharks.'

Bottemiller can't say what prompted her to volunteer at the school. She used to be a kindergarten teacher 'way back, a long time ago when kindergarten was more like pre-school, not so academic,' she says. Her husband, Ernie, passed away in 2002, so maybe she was looking for something to cheer her up.

Whatever the reason, it's clear that Bottemiller makes a perfect elementary school volunteer.

The children respond to her soft voice and patient personality. And, at 4-foot-8 with heels, Bottemiller is like a chameleon, blending in with the little boys and girls she's helping. If it weren't for the gray hair, she might blend in even better.

'They really respond to a grandma-type person of her age,' says first-grade teacher Carol Mack.

Teachers love her because she's versatile, Mack says. Grandma Robbie is equally comfortable helping children with their reading as she is helping with math riddles.

'I always sign up for volunteers,' Mack says. 'It's very difficult these days because we have so many kids with different needs, coming from different backgrounds … to have a person who is willing to help, it really makes a difference.'

Bottemiller is a volunteer with Metropolitan Family Service Foster Grandparent program, a service that pairs adults older than 60 with primarily low-income or special needs children.

Even language barriers don't make much of a difference to Grandma Robbie.

'Oh, that's not a problem,' Bottemiller says of working with children who are just learning to speak English. 'Although sometimes I don't understand them because I am a little hard of hearing.'

The children rally around Bottemiller like they would their own grandmother. When they find out she is going to be in the local newspaper, they look at her with awe and line up to talk about their 'Grandma Robbie.'

'She's really nice,' they say. 'She helps us.'

One little girl, Maria Hernandez, 7, watches Bottemiller for a minute before answering the question, 'Why do you like Grandma Robbie?'

Hernandez smiles and shoots Bottemiller a loving look. 'I like her because she's pretty,' she says.

Bottemiller laughs at that one.

'It's hard to explain why I do this,' she says. 'I guess it just keeps me young.'