MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When many people contemplate retirement, they take up new hobbies, travel or play golf. When one social worker retired, she knew exactly where she wanted to be.

Since retiring two decades ago, Maureen Cannon has been volunteering at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan. “Grandma Maureen,” as she’s called, has become an integral part of the classroom. But the children are essential in her life too.

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Cannon doesn’t take happy children for granted.

“These are amazing children, let me tell you,” she said.

Cannon retired after an emotional career in county social work.

“When I retired I was exhausted,” she said. “I worked in the field of child abuse and so I really wanted to be with regular, normal kids. I needed to balance it out.”

She found that balance in the classroom, teaching first graders the basics, like how to read.

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“Each child is so unique and so refreshing. They just have no sense of time and space and the faults of people and the world. They’re just innocent,” Cannon said.

She visits the class several times a week through a program called DARTS Learning Buddies, which brings older adults into classrooms in Dakota and Scott counties.

“We like to say that it’s a win-win-win for the schools, for the volunteers and ultimately for the community,” Learning Buddies coordinator Erin Walloch said.

The program is celebrating its 20th year. Cannon was one of the first volunteers to sign up. And she has no plans of retiring from this role.

“I get laughter, the things they say and do and just their eagerness to learn,” she said. “They’re like a dry sponge, they soak it all up.”

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Today, the DARTS Learning Buddies program has 46 participating schools and more than 130 volunteers. More than 50,000 children have been mentored over the program’s history.
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