Volunteer all-stars: 5 grandparents who are changing lives

These amazing grandparents have devoted their time to helping those in need.

Image courtesy of Larry Goodman
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Grandparents can help teach their grandchildren how to walk, how to talk and how to read, but more importantly, grandparents can teach their grandchildren one of life’s greatest lessons: the importance of giving back to others.

To celebrate grandparents who have dedicated their lives to giving back to others, we’ve profiled seven truly amazing grandparents and role models who are making a difference. Read their stories, and get inspired!

Image of Larry GoodmanCourtesy of Larry Goodman        Larry Goodman

Larry Goodman, grandfather of six

The Cebrin Goodman Center for Prevention of Drug Abuse, Chicago, Illinois

In 2005, Larry Goodman and his wife, Lillian, channeled the grief they felt from losing their granddaughter Cebrin, 22, to drug addiction, and opened the Cebrin Goodman Center for Prevention of Drug Abuse.

“Cebrin was a wonderful, extremely talented woman at the head of her class, and we were devastated by her death. I felt very strongly that if I could prevent other families from suffering that kind of loss, we’d be accomplishing something worthwhile,” says Larry, who is in his 80s.

In order to effectively prevent teen drug abuse, the Cebrin Goodman Center gives about $1,000,000 in grants to 40 Chicago-area high schools to develop programs that train young people to encourage their peers to avoid drugs. This approach, says Larry, “is more effective than adults lecturing or trying to talk to teens about drugs.”

Additionally, Mr. Goodman encourages his six grandchildren to get involved. They comprise a grandchildren’s board for the center, so they can learn how philanthropy works. “They’ll be the future of our foundation one day.”

Image of Fran HeitzmanCourtesy of Fran Heitzman –
Fran Heitzman

Fran Heitzman, grandfather of 15 and great-grandfather of eight

Bridging, Twin Cities, Minnesota

Fran Heitzman, 87, was working as the maintenance man in his church in a Minnesota suburb when a woman brought in a crib as a donation. Mr. Heitzman oversaw the donation of the crib to a Catholic charity and an idea sparked. “Why can’t we take the things people no longer need and give to those who need it?” thought Fran.

And thus, Bridging, the largest furniture bank in North America, was born. Fran started storing furniture donations in an old warehouse and coordinating with charities to find families in need; today, Bridging operates out of two locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and helps over 4,000 needy families each year get settled into their new homes or apartments.

“Imagine you’re a single mom who’s just moved into an apartment, and you have three kids and three plastic bags of clothes,” says Mr. Heitzman, “but there’s nothing in the apartment—no beds to sleep on, dressers to store clothes or chairs to sit on. That’s where Bridging comes in: You can come to our warehouse and pick out literally everything you need to start over, at absolutely no cost. We help people start their lives over again.”

Image of Pamela HirschCourtesy of Pamela Hirsch
Pamela Hirsch

Pamela Hirsch, grandmother of two

Baby Quest Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

Pamela Hirsch saw firsthand the difficult path couples face when they can’t have children of their own. “After three years of trying in-vitro fertilization and countless medical issues, my daughter and son-in-law had exhausted all of their funds … and were still unable to have a baby,” says Ms. Hirsch, 65. “My husband and I helped them pay for a surrogate, which can typically cost between $65,000 and $85,000 in the United States, and they now have a beautiful 2 ½-year-old girl.”

Pamela decided to start the Baby Quest Foundation, which helps defray the cost of surrogacy for hardworking couples who have exhausted their savings in trying to have babies. “A little over a year ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and knew that I needed to help other families struggling with fertility issues,” she says.

A successful businesswoman and one of the co-founders of the Princeton Review test prep company, Ms. Hirsch knew how to run a for-profit business, which helped her in setting up Baby Quest. After calling in favors and fundraising among friends, Baby Quest succeeded in giving out grants to five couples in the past year to help cover the cost of surrogacy and helped secure fertility medications at a lower cost. Each year moving forward, Baby Quest aims to help at more couples in their journey to starting a family.

Dr. Marion Somers, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of three

Volunteer spokesperson for 3 in 4 Need More, Los Angeles, CA

Image of Dr. Marion SomersCourtesy of Dr. Marion Somers
Dr. Marion Somers

“I started taking care of senior citizens when I was a child living in Spanish Harlem, looking after my neighbors who didn’t have family members to care for them,” says Dr. Marion Somers, an elder care advocate and volunteer spokesperson for 3 in 4 Need More, an organization dedicated to spreading the message that three in four Americans will need long-term care as senior citizens but aren’t prepared for it.

“People are not ready on a personal or economic level when it comes to things like securing nursing care, retrofitting a home or caring themselves for elder relatives,” says Dr. Somers, 72.

After working for 45 years in geriatric care management and spearheading a program in the field at Hunter College in New York City, Dr. Somers took it upon herself to spread the word about the necessity for geriatric care planning. She’s been touring the country for months at a time in a 1967 Greyhound bus, speaking to audiences at churches, synagogues, community centers and HR departments about the necessity of planning ahead for long-term geriatric care. Additionally, Dr. Somers’ newspaper column “Elder Care Made Easier” reaches an audience of 8 million people through 340 newspapers nationwide.

Image of Charles Van KesslerCourtesy of Charles Van Kessler
Charles Van Kessler

Charles Van Kessler, grandfather of four

founder of Passion 4 K.I.D.S., Encinitas, California

During World War 2, Charles Van Kessler’s family was captured by the Nazis, forcing him to live in a state-run orphanage for eight years. An only child, he was spared by the Nazis and sent to an orphanage because his mother was Catholic, though his father was Jewish. The experience gave him the tremendous ability to empathize with homeless, neglected and abused children, and when he moved to Texas in the 1960’s, he immediately began helping the children who were living on the streets on the Texas-Mexico border.

Years later, Charles, 71, started his charity organization Passion 4 K.I.D.S., which stands for Kids in Desperate Situations. Alongside his wife Linda, Charles fights for the needs of children who are homeless, severely disadvantaged, abused, neglected or ill. “Quite a few are physically, emotionally or mentally handicapped,” says Mr. Van Kessler, “or are in the foster care system because of parental drug and alcohol abuse.”  Passion 4 K.I.D.S. serves as mentors, coordinates with doctors to provide necessary medical care, and raises funds to help with medical and living expenses.

Charles says: “A recent case near to my heart was Izaiah, a baby who was hit by an underage drunk driver and whose brain became severed from his spinal cord. In order to help his 22-year-old parents, who had no health insurance, we helped facilitate his medical treatment and coordinated with 64 local San Diego organizations to retrofit his home to accommodate his special needs.” Charles draws on his own heartbreaking experiences as a child for motivation to continue in his charitable work, saying, “After suffering years of abuse in an orphanage, I feel like I have to give back to other children in need in any way I can.”