Peggy Burns has spent most of her life making a difference in many people’s lives. As director of the Foster Grandparent Program of Kent County for the Gerontology Network, she provides a volunteer opportunity for adults, 60 years of age or older, to work with children who are physically, mentally, or emotionally impaired, children who are slow learners or who are at risk. In 1992, Peggy recognized that teen parents and their children needed help. She was inspired to create a new program; Traveling Grannies and Grandpas, to provide needed in-home parenting instruction, experience, and support. In 1992 there were approximately 1,438 teen mothers, 15-18 years old, most with a limited future, as they were often unmarried, with little education, and unable to find decent employment. Many would become pregnant again within two years. Using senior volunteers on a limited income, as in the Foster Grandparents Program, the Traveling Grannies and Grandpas promote positive parenting techniques, encourage good nutrition, provide transportation to doctors, and encourage further education. The results have been encouraging with a high percentage of the young mothers refraining from further pregnancies, earning high school degrees, with a few going on to higher education. The seniors receive a small stipend and an annual physical as well as a big boost to their self-esteem.
She has received recognition for this innovative concept from Hilary Rodham Clinton. The program has been featured on NBC Nightly News. She has received many honors including an Award of Excellence form the Michigan Association of Foster Grandparents, the Award of Appreciation from the Child and Family Resource Council, the Golden Rule Award from JC Penney, and won the Chamber of Commerce Athena Award in 2015.
Peggy, a licensed Cosmetician, came to Grand Rapids from New Orleans to complete her education in 1966. She is a licensed Social Worker and loves working with older adults. She held the position of Director of Elderly Services at United Methodist Community House for 14 years. Here she continually went beyond her job description, often finding solutions for the seniors’ social security problems or investigating and resolving possible senior abuse. Then in 1990, she moved to the Gerontology Network. She is also a licensed missionary and loves to research, teach, and develop skits from the Bible. She is always willing to pray for and counsel those in need. Peggy and husband Charles has three daughters and two grandchildren in whom she delights.
“I have a passion for people and I love a challenge,” she explained. “It’s just my nature to get involved. After all, when a person is in need they are relying on those offering the help to see the problem through. If what I can offer will make a difference in a person’s life, I will find a way to help.”