Koala Bear Child Care at Lake Minnetonka Shores is blessed by a volunteer’s passion for stories and children.
Every Tuesday afternoon at Koala Bear Child Care, the energetic rumpus of children’s play hushes when Judy Eilertsen sits down, children circling around her, and cracks open a picture book. They know that “Grandma Judy” doesn’t simply read books aloud to them—she shares stories. In her hands, the stories unfold with all the drama, comedy and life-lessons embedded in great tales. Introducing the unique voices of each character and asking the children questions, she weaves the story in a book with the children’s personal stories and snippets of her own. Her aim is for everyone to come away with new understanding.
Judy moved to Lake Minnetonka Shores 5 years ago into what she calls her “sensational apartment.” “I look right out my patio door to Lake Minnetonka!” she exclaims. But she finds even greater joy through the doors of Koala Bear where she has been a volunteer storyteller for the past year and a half.
“Judy looks forward to coming to the center and we look forward to having her,” said Judy Madera, Director of Koala Bear. The child care center is housed at Lake Minnetonka Shores in Spring Park, MN, and many of the children come from the families of the staff. “Grandma Judy brings a smile to us every week along with the calmness and comfort she gives to the children as she reads,” Madera said.
“I don’t have any great-grandchildren of my own...yet,” Judy explains as motivation for volunteering to read. “And I miss children,” she admits because her own daughters and grandchildren are grown. Her aspirations for the children are greater than her personal satisfaction. “I feel privileged to cultivate their desire to learn in such a way that they carry a yearning to learn into their future school years,” she said.
Judy studied theater in college and has served the Minnesota Children’s Theater as a board member and volunteer instructor. “My experience in theater helps me to portray different characters in the story and explore with the children how they interpret the characters’ motivations,” she explains. “It’s a wonderful foundation to appreciate and cultivate children’s spontaneity and originality,” she said.
With a little help from the children, Grandma Judy collaborates with the care center staff to select the books to read each week. The young women on the staff appreciate her good influence on them. She regularly praises their classroom work, shares her life experiences and offers a few suggestions for them.
Madera also enjoys the moments when Grandma Judy comes to her office for a brief chat. “It is so rewarding for younger women to connect with a mature older woman,” said Madera. “There is so much we can learn from the life experiences of older adults,” she said.
Beyond her weekly visits, Judy is a grand-friend to the children. Everyone knows when the children and staff see her on their regular excursions around the Lake Minnetonka Shores campus because they shout, “Hi, Grandma Judy!” In August, she opened her apartment door to the sound of children singing “Happy Birthday” as they surprised her with a giant birthday card and a balloon to honor her day. “I’m always amazed at their energy and happiness. It’s like life is a ball!” Judy said.
Week after week, book after book; Tuesday afternoon remains a special time between Judy, the children and the stories. “Books give us stories and stories help us learn who we are,” she said. The Koala Bear children trust Judy and delight her with their responses, “They are so individual at this age; their real personalities come through.”
When reading time is over, the children follow Grandma Judy to the door and hold it open for her. They all give a grand wave and goodbye until next time. How does she feel when she’s finished for the week and goes back to the adult world? Judy answers, “I feel like a million dollars! I’m so fortunate.”