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Babies & Boomers

Becky Walsh sits at a small table Thursday morning in the "Wobbler" classroom at Medford's Family Nurturing Center and patiently guides tiny toddler hands around mini sandwich wraps.

Walsh, 70, has been volunteering at the therapeutic preschool for more than a year. From rocking tots, to changing diapers, to helping young children learn how to feed themselves, the retired nurse looks forward to her tasks each Thursday, she said.

"It's so rewarding, just watching the magic that can happen," said Walsh.

The nonprofit center, which provides free therapeutic early childhood education, respite care, home visits, parental support and crisis response, hopes to attract more volunteers like Walsh, said director Mary-Curtis Gramley.

Grants from the Oregon Community Foundation and the Juan Young Trust have brought in $48,000 to help jump-start an effort to get local baby boomers volunteering in organizations that can help young children succeed, Gramley said.

The "Engaging Boomers in Early Childhood" grant is a statewide program encouraging those who are 45 to 65 years old to participate in child education, she said.

Walsh has done a slew of volunteer jobs since she retired. But helping out at the rescue nursery, "watching a child progress from a fearful place to a loving place," is just what the doctor ordered, said Walsh.

The goal of the program is to help children and parents rebuild their lives. But it takes time and patience to heal the damage done by traumatic behaviors and chaotic lifestyles, she said.

"Predictability is so important," said Gramley. "We try to be very responsive to the needs of the children in the moment with very clear purpose."

Sue Hamilton provides training for the center's volunteers. A part-time instructor in early childhood development at Southern Oregon University, Hamilton uses her knowledge to help the volunteers gain insights into how best to work with the children. How to make friends with a child who has emotional or social difficulties can be challenging, she said.

"They can be harder to like and get to know," said Hamilton. "But if you look at it from the child's perspective, if you don't feel you can trust your world, you build defenses."

Marilyn Borkin, 62, works part-time at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. Borkin worked in the juvenile justice court and with the foster-care system when she lived in Washington, D.C., she said. Borkin volunteers at the center in the classrooms and rides the buses home with the children.

"I drop them off at their door and greet the parents," Borkin said.

Teaching proper life skills to both the children and their parents is "so important to trying to give these kids a chance," Borkin said. "Because the reality is kids always want to be with their parents."

Bill Little, retired engineer, provides something in short supply to many of the children in the program, said Gramley.

"We are so grateful to get a wonderful male role model here in our program," she said.

Little, 57, has been a mentor to teen boys for years. The center provides him with an opportunity to attempt some early intervention, he said.

It can be heart-rending to hear about some of the children's circumstances, Little said. But he also knows there is hope.

"Some of these kids have real challenges," he said. "You want there to be big substantial changes, but the reality is there are small incremental steps. You're in for the long haul. And, the good news is, you really do see progress."

Working with 3- and 4-year-olds presents its own set of challenges. Attention spans are shorter, the kids never all sit down at the same time, and you've got to watch your pockets, Little said with a laugh.

A recent exercise in creative play involved purple glitter paint. The kids went through a lot of paint, and some of it ended up in the pockets of his jacket.

"When I reached in to get my keys, both pockets were full of sparkly purple paint," Little said. "I don't know if it was a conspiracy or if it was just one of them."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Volunteer Becky Walsh of Eagle Point helps Alejandra Prado-Rodriguez, 16 months, clean up before lunch at the Family Nurturing Center Thursday. The center provides early childhood education, respite care and parent support for at-risk families. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell