Anticipation was building among the preschoolers Monday morning at Small World Development Center. “Grandma Susie” was expected to arrive any minute.
“She’s here,” teacher Alice Patrick told her class of about 10 2- to 4-year-old boys and girls. “Who is it?”
“Grandma Susie!” the children replied, as three of them ran to the door to offer Lewis a hug.
“I read at Small World two times a week, on Mondays and Thursdays,” Lewis said after her time with the youngsters was completed. “I’ve been doing it since around Thanksgiving.”
Small World Development Center will observe its 24th anniversary on Friday, and several people important to the center’s growth have been invited to a luncheon.
But Lewis was looking to the future during this interview. Volunteers, especially those with construction skills, are being asked to come to the center at 417 Wesley between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 9, for a workday on the building. Mary Blake, who with her husband Bishop Aaron Blake of Greater Faith Community Church founded the center, said several improvements are needed along walls and the roof of the child care center’s building.
Mary Blake said a lunch will be served outside for volunteers at the workday.
Lewis said reading books at Small World has been “wonderful for them, and wonderful for me.” She was a reading teacher at Brownwood High School for 11 years, and she raised her own family to enjoy reading. But after surviving a severe stroke, Lewis said reading children’s books proved to be helpful in regaining her former skills.
“I’m getting better,” Lewis said. “But reading to the children has been so wonderful for me. It’s been a blessing to me.”
Lewis said one of her daughters, Ellisa Pope, died in January.
“The next day, I was scheduled to read at Small World, and I didn’t know whether I should,” Lewis said. But Lillian, her other daughter, encouraged her to go read to the children, because “Ellisa would want you to.”
“I just felt doing that was so beneficial,” Lewis said.
Lewis decided to stay in Brownwood after her husband, Monte Lewis, a professor at Howard Payne University, died, because one of her daughters wanted to finish high school here. Then, Lewis had a stroke, and that put her on a difficult road of rehabilitation in the Metroplex. But she returned to Brownwood where, she said, “I have met such wonderful people. I really rely on my friends at First United Methodist Church and the Christian Women’s Job Corps. They are so gracious and helping, and healing.”
When looking for a place to volunteer, she said, she chose Small World because of the years she spent at Brownwood High where Aaron Blake had been a counselor.
“I thought of Aaron and Mary, and how what a wonderful Christian woman Mary is,” Lewis said. “She’s so strong and so loving. This has been a good fit in every way.”
Lewis said she goes to the Brownwood Public Library and checks out about five children’s books every two weeks to take to Small World to read. She only needs four, so she usually eliminates one that in her opinion “is a dud,” she said.
“I read them at home first,” she said. “Then I refresh that story for the children.”
“I start out every visit with some question about the day,” Lewis said. “ ‘Is it cloudy or sunny?’ ‘Is it summer or winter?’‘Is it morning?’ ‘What time is it?’ Then I get the book out.”
If a child’s attention wanders, Lewis is quick to close the book.
“ ‘You don’t talk,’” she says she tells them. “ ‘This is Grandma Susie’s time. It’s your time to focus on the book.’”
Lewis highly recommends volunteering.
“Anyone who has an inkling to do anything should volunteer, even if they only have a little time,” Lewis said. “At Small World, you could bake cookies or play with the children. It’s really a win-win situation, with God’s blessings.”