Grandma Jean: I am Just There to Love Them

She does not like awards or recognition. So when Jean Cornwell Wheat learned she would be getting the Volunteer-of-the-Month Award for September from the County Board of Supervisors, she said she felt confused about it.

“It’s a little uncomfortable because everyone contributes in their own way,” said Cornwell Wheat, 69, of the certificate of appreciation she received at today’s meeting. “I am doing what I love to do. So it’s kind of weird to get an award for what you love to do.”

For nearly nine years, Cornwell Wheat has lived at San Pasqual Academy (SPA), the County’s residential education community for foster youth.

Affectionately known as Grandma Jean, Cornwell Wheat is one of 11 grandparents at SPA. She has donated more than 3,700 hours of her time as a volunteer mentor at San Pasqual Academy Neighbors.

She has taken foster kids deep sea fishing, on theater outings, to museums and poetry slams. She shows them films and documentaries and leads discussions about the movies they see.

“I like to share art and history…anything to do with the arts,” said Grandma Jean, a former community college art history instructor and adult education teacher. “Most of the foster kids have never experienced anything like that. It just opens up the world a little bit more for them.”

Grandma Jean also records many of the students’ special life moments and memories, just like a grandmother would. She serves as SPA’s photographer and documents many of the Academy’s activities, including prom and commencement ceremonies.

“She is very connected to the kids and understands their backgrounds,” said Linda Hopkins, supervisor of the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) for the County Health and Human Services Agency’s Aging and Independence Services.

Hopkins was so impressed with Grandma Jean’s work and interaction with the students she did not hesitate to nominate her for the Board’s award.

“Jean brings so much to the program, but mostly she lends an ear and provides guidance, enhancing the psycho-social needs of the students at the academy,” added Hopkins.

Grandma Jean, who paints, sculpts and swims in her spare time, said her relationship with the foster youth is a “natural connection.” Her parents died when she was young and was raised by her grandparents. Grandma Jean also has nine natural grandchildren, including one who lives at SPA.

“I like to share and the kids help me feel young. They make you laugh. They make you cry,” said Grandma Jean, whose husband Jeffrey is also a grandparent at SPA. “They don’t allow you to be anything other than yourself. They know I am not judging them. They know I am just there to love them.”

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact