Ron and Sondra von Arb, Owatonna

In 2008, Sondra and Ron von Arb put two and two together. Recently retired from careers in nursing and firefighting and as an EMT, and knee deep in the lives of their growing grandchildren, the von Arb’s were tuned into the connection between the vitality of their local schools and the health of the community. The Owatonna School Board, knowing the volunteer work the von Arb’s were already doing, asked them to get more volunteers into the schools. The community’s growing population of retirees and younger seniors had a lot to offer so the von Arb’s researched and started Grandparents for Education, a non-profit organization to help schools, teachers and above all students. Just four years later, Grandparents for Education has quadrupled its membership to more than 100 seniors active in Owatonna’s public schools, helping in classrooms and school programs across the school district, assisting with everything from basic skills to woodworking to music to health screening.

“Talking is not doing something,” says Sondra von Arb. “Our teachers are working hard but they’re burning out. They need our help. By not being able to read or do basic math, our students are losing freedom without even knowing it”. The state is giving our schools IOU’s to keep going, but pay-back is long in coming. Grandparents for Education tries to help, but we’re just scratching the surface.”

The mission of Grandparents for Education is “to provide schools and school children access to caring and supportive actual and honorary grandparents and to provide opportunities for these volunteers to engage in meaningful activities in a school setting.” “It’s a win-win,” says Ron, Sondra’s husband of 53 years. “I was surprised. We were doing it for the kids, but our grandparents are getting so much satisfaction out of it. It feels so worthwhile.” He says it feels very fulfilling for the volunteers to get to know the youth in their community. The organization hopes to enhance cross-generational partnerships for student success and safety. For her work in GFE, Sondra is one of ten finalists in the U.S. and Canada for The Heritage Educational Award, given by the American Art and Music Guild. Grandparents for Education’s greatest hope is that their work inspires other communities across Minnesota to start their own similar organizations.

Grandparents for Education is a supporter of Parents United, most recently as sponsors of our annual Summit. “We always learn something from Parents United,” stated Sondra. “I appreciate the weekly Update so much. I always want to know what’s going on at the state level. Parents United provides a state-level view of the challenges facing our schools.”