When Betty Heath’s son was in elementary school she asked him about his day. He replied that he had spent most of the day in the hall, which is how he spent most of his days. This innocent conversation launched Heath’s commitment to helping children in schools and gaining the name of Grandma to many.
When Heath learned her son was sitting in the hall at school her first reaction wasn’t to storm in demanding change, it was to understand what was happening. She quickly learned that her son had several learning disabilities that the teacher was not equipped to deal with, she said.
Learning that her son faced learning challenges opened Heath’s mind that other children faced them too. So Heath began volunteering. Before getting married and starting a family, Heath had planned to become an English teacher and was ready to use those skills to help however she could.
Although her love of English and skills in teaching came in handy, Heath’s approach to getting to the source of a student’s trouble was quite simple: She got to know them and listened, she said.
“If you find out a little bit about their background then you know what’s bugging them. They will open up to you and they will share,” Heath said. “It’s kinda tricky. You have to be very careful that you don’t intrude on their privacy, but you give them a chance to tell you what is needed.”
While volunteering in a fourth grade classroom many years ago, Heath helped a boy who was struggling to keep up with his peers. His teacher knew he was smart but didn’t understand why he wasn’t getting the grades she knew he could.
Heath began working with the boy and quickly learned that the boy’s family was struggling at home, his parents were fighting, his siblings were fighting and all of that was making the boy feel hopeless.
Around Christmas time, Heath asked the students to write letters to Santa. She was called into the principal’s office because the boy’s letter caused concern for the principal. The boy simply asked Santa for hope because his year had been hard and that’s what he needed most, Heath said.
Heath and her husband George took it upon themselves to respond to the letter — as Santa. Heath encouraged the young boy to remember himself and all he had accomplished and that hope lived within him. As a memory, she included several rocks with inspirational words painted on them — one of which is hope.
Not long after receiving “Santa’s letter,” the boy’s mother discovered how her son had been feeling. She told Heath that she had no idea and that she was committed to changing that for her son.
Heath said that the young man has since gone on to amazing things and he still keeps the rocks in his pocket. It was this moment that Heath said started her career as Grandma for the St. Vrain Valley School District.
Heath has volunteered for the district since she moved here in 2000. As a volunteer, she is assigned students to help across the district.
“I found out about the (SVVSD) volunteer program and I think it is one of the best programs for volunteer work that I have ever seen,” Heath said. “I appreciate the opportunity that St. Vrain Valley School District gives to volunteer workers.”
It wasn’t until years after the start of her volunteer career that Heath officially took on the name of Grandma. A young girl had just lost her grandmother and missed her when Heath stepped in to help her with her classwork. The young girl opened up to Heath about her loss. Heath replied that she would be honored to be the girl’s grandmother at school and the girl reacted with pure joy, Heath said. Since then, students call her Grandma Betty wherever they are.
“I take great pride in fostering kids with their education because I know an educated student will be a happy camper in life,” Heath said.